SAN DIEGO — Phil Mickelson hit a drive into a eucalyptus tree that never came down. D.A. Point had a chip from 30 yards short of the flag that tumbled 20 yards over the green and into a hazard.
Ryuji Imada didn't feel as though he played that much better Saturday in the Farmers Insurance Open. The difference was he turned trouble into pars, then finished with a bonus birdie that put gave him a two-shot lead at Torrey Pines.
"The score looks pretty solid," Imada said after his 2-under 70. "But it was a struggle out there."
Imada avoided the problems that stalled so many other players on the South Course and wound up at 13-under 203. When his 35-foot birdie putt dropped on the 18th, he had a two-shot lead over Ben Crane and 25-year-old Michael Sim of Australia.
Imada will be going for his second PGA Tour victory, along with an invitation to the Masters.
And he surely likes his chances better than two years ago, when he finished runner-up at Torrey Pines. He started that final round 12 shots behind and finished eight shots behind Tiger Woods.
"It he was here, I'm sure he'd be 10 ahead of me," Imada said. "No, it would be a different feel. But it's still a good 18 holes of golf left, and hopefully, I can keep on playing the way I've been playing this week."
Even without Woods around, Imada had reason to realize what kind of work was ahead of him.
Crane, who had a 69, is as scrappy as they come. He has made only three bogeys over 54 holes, and moved into contention with four birdies on his final eight holes Saturday.
"You cannot predict what's going to happen in this game, especially on this course," Crane said.
Sim is a rising star whose career has been slowed by back injuries, yet he showed his potential last year by winning three times on the Nationwide Tour to earn an instant promotion to the big leagues. Trouble was, there was no room for him in many tournaments.
"I'm happy to be out here now," Sim said. "I've got an opportunity this week to win a golf tournament. I'd like to take full opportunity of that tomorrow."
U.S. Open champion Lucas Glover had a 68, which included a double bogey on one of the easiest par 4s on the back nine. He was alone in fourth, three shots behind.
"Bad break, and maybe a bad decision, all on the same hole," he said. "But all in all, pretty pleased. I got myself a little bit closer, and that was the goal today."
Mickelson shot 70 and was in the group four shots back at 9-under 207.
Mickelson would not have predicted seeing a ball get stuck in a tree — two days in a row. On Friday, it happened in his group to Ryan Palmer. This time, it was Lefty who stared up into the eucalyptus tree, even sending a young fan up the tree to help.
"My short game kept me in it," Mickelson said. "I didn't hit the ball the way I've been hitting it coming in. I don't feel like it's far off. But at least I'm in a position now where a good round tomorrow can get it done."
Mickelson and so many others were in range.
Brandt Snedeker, who played in the final group at Torrey Pines in 2007, birdied the last hole for a 68 and was in the group at 207 along with Mickelson, K.J. Choi (69), highly regarded rookie Rickie Fowler (70), Matt Every (72) and Points.
Ernie Els had a 69 to lead the group at 8-under 208 that also featured Robert Allenby, who has two victories and a runner-up finish in his last three tournaments.
"You can't really fake it around here," Els said.
That much was clear on a sun-filled day along the Pacific bluffs. Points was one shot out of the lead and in front of the 14th green trying it pitch to a back pin. It came out a little strong, tumbled down the hill and into a hazard.
Even more adventurous was Mickelson.
He drove left over the cliff on the fourth hole and down the hill in the plants, just above Black's Beach. Mickelson found his ball, managed to get it back onto the golf course and then thrilled his large crowd with a par.
He wasn't as fortunate with his next mistake.
Mickelson hit another tee shot to the left on the par-4 seventh, and the fans could hear it clatter into a eucalyptus tree. They just couldn't hear it land. By the time Mickelson arrived at the base of a tree, rules official Steve Rintoul already had his binoculars out. He had spotted one ball lodged in the branches, but couldn't identify it as a Callaway with Mickelson's markings.
One man offered to climb into the tree. Mickelson, not as spry at age 39, gave his full blessing. The man climbed 10 feet into the tree and shook with all his might as the crowd cheered him on. The ball never came down, but it moved enough for Mickelson to realize it wasn't his. He headed back to the tee and hit another drive behind the trees, and did well to escape with double bogey.
By the end of the day, he still had a chance.