Desert critter saves Watson a stroke at rowdy Phoenix Open

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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — A desert critter saved leader Bubba Watson at least a stroke Saturday in the Phoenix Open. Some pigskin play cost Phil Mickelson to the chagrin of the rowdiest fans in the largest crowd in golf history.

The estimated 189,722 in attendance had a lot to see on a sunny, cool day at TPC Scottsdale.

Watson’s drive on the par-5 13th went into a desert bush and settled next to a burrowing animal hole that would have interfered with his swing, giving him a free drop.

“Right next to my ball was a burrowing animal hole and my club was going to hit it at impact,” Watson said. “It was big hole and the club would get caught on it. So, I got a free drop and could easily wedge it out.”

He hit a 150-yard shot to the fairway, followed with a wedge to the fringe and two-putted for par on the way to a 3-under 68 and a two-stroke lead.

Mickelson made a double bogey on the par-3 No. 16, the 20,000-seat stadium hole where he “lost focus” thinking about throwing footballs into the crowd.

The defending champion half-shanked his tee shot left on the 128-yard hole. He followed with a weak flop shot into the bunker, blasted to 8 feet and two-putted.

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