BMW CHAMPIONSHIP: Ten-birdie round shows Mickelson is back in the groove

CARMEL, Ind. – Phil Mickelson was a reluctant competitor when the Western Golf Assn. held the Western Open and its successor, the BMW Championship, at Cog Hill in Lemont. He just didn’t like the course, and said so.

The results showed it, too. From his first appearance in 1992 until the final staging at Cog last year Mickelson had one good showing – a tie for eighth in 2010. He played 12 other times without making the top 25, missed the cut twice and skipped the event six times.

No player was happier than Mickelson to see the tourney leave Lemont after Rees Johnson renovated the course in 2008, and Saturday he was the talk of the relocated BMW Championship after posting 10 birdies en route to an 8-under-par 64 — low score of the week — in the third round at Crooked Stick.

The hot round elevated Mickelson into a tie with Vijay Singh for the 54-hole lead at 16-under-par 200 but they’ll have plenty of prominent contenders going into today’s final round. Lee Westwood and Rory McElroy, past and present world No. 1s, are two strokes back in a tie for third, Dustin Johnson is in a three-way tie for fifth and Tiger Woods is solo eighth after rallying with four birdies in the last 10 holes on Saturday.

But Mickelson’s game is peaking at the right time. Last of the four-tournament FedEx Cup playoff series, The Tour Championship, comes up in two weeks in Atlanta and the following week it’s the Ryder Cup at Medinah.

“My game went south for awhile, and it’s finally starting to come around,’’ said Mickelson. “I’m looking forward to the shootout tomorrow and the next couple weeks.’’

After a tie for seventh at the Byron Nelson Classic in May Mickelson went seven tournaments without a top-30 finish, missed the cut twice including the U.S. Open and withdrew from one event after shooting a first-round 79.

He barely hung on to the eighth, and last, automatic berth on the U.S. Ryder Cup team during that down stretch, but now the slump is over. Mickelson ended it with a tie for fourth at the Deutsche Bank Championship, second of the FedEx playoff events, last week in Boston. Now he’s in a great position to win at Crooked Stick, where low scores have become the norm thanks to difficult weather conditions.

For the third straight day the lift, clean and place rule was in effect because the fairways were so soggy. Friday’s second round started early so that it could be completed before predicted storms hit. They dropped 2.3 inches of rain on the course Friday night, and Saturday’s third round was pushed back to a noon start to allow for cleanup work.

None of it reduced the swarming galleries for Indianapolis’ first big men’s event since the 1991 PGA Championship.

“It’s great to play golf here,’’ said Mickelson, who never said that about Chicago. “It’s a great golf course, and it’s unreal how much support we’ve had.’’