Third-round finish turns to positioning instead of posturing

Sergio Garcia, left, shakes hands with Tiger Woods at the conclusion of the third round of the Players Championship.

Sergio Garcia, left, shakes hands with Tiger Woods at the conclusion of the third round of the Players Championship.

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2:34:01 AM ET. 04/25/2014




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PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Nothing like a good night’s sleep, a gentle morning, and a few birdies with breakfast to soothe the petulance and pettiness, eh?

The morning after for those long-standing combatants, Tiger Woods and Sergio Garcia, was quiet and reserved, with more decorum than they brought to their post-golf talks Saturday evening. Maybe it was a concession to Mother’s Day or perhaps they decided to focus on the golf, not the rhetoric, but after they completed three-and-a-half holes to finish their third rounds of The Players Championship, Woods and Garcia did not arm wrestle, kick-box, or spar.

They merely removed hats, shook hands, and walked from the 18th green.

No, they weren’t arm-in-arm, but Woods and Garcia are tied atop the leaderboard through 54 holes, 11 under and locked with unheralded David Lingmerth of Sweden. A trio of players – Casey Wittenberg, Henrik Stenson and Ryan Palmer – are tied for fourth at 10 under, while Jeff Maggert, who finished his third round so long ago it’s easy to overlook, is alone in seventh, at 9 under.

Truth be told, it’s a testament to the PGA Tour landscape that little attention was paid to anyone’s golf Sunday morning, given that all focus was on Woods and Garcia, thanks to their needless behavior Saturday. Better etiquette by Woods and a cooler demeanor by Garcia could have been used at the second hole. With Garcia at the top of his backswing with his fairway shot, Woods pulled 5-wood from his golf bag, which for some reason sent the yahoos into a lather. They roared, Garcia got flustered and oh, how it set in motion an Oil vs. Water situation.

Garcia basically accused Woods of poor form, of not paying attention.

Woods shrugged it off, basically saying he’s never surprised when Garcia complains.

Kids being kids, perhaps, but one thing is abundantly clear. “We don’t like each other,” Garcia said.

So, maybe it’s a good thing that this rookie from Sweden has hung in there to add a cup of surprise to the Players recipe? Lingmerth returned to play one hole, a bogey at the 18th, but his third-round 69 gets him into the final pairing alongside Garcia.

Woods will go off right before them, paired with Wittenberg.

“I think it’s probably good for both of us. Simple as that,” Garcia said, when asked if he was happy not to be paired with Woods for the fourth round.

Eight players were on the course late Saturday when darkness suspended play, but while the entire focus Sunday morning was on Woods and Garcia, some of the other six returnees added storylines to the script.

Lingmerth had eagled the par-5 16th and birdied the par-5 17th late Saturday to push to 12 under, leading by two. But he promptly fired tee shot wide right at 18 and they don’t allow breakfast balls on the PGA Tour.

“I felt pretty good over the shot, but I blocked it a little too much,” Lingmerth said. “It was the second one that gave me more trouble.”

Trying to rip a 6-iron up and over trees to a hole some 190 yards away, Lingmerth didn’t catch it cleanly. His battle rattled through trees and if there was one break he caught, it was this: Instead of caroming wide left and into water, his ball stayed in the fairway.

Lingmerth just didn’t get it up-and-down, the closing bogey costing him the outright lead.

It also allowed others to pull closer. Palmer, for instance. He went to bed Saturday knowing his first shot would be at the infamous island-green 17th, but he still went through his entire routine – stretching, the fitness trailer, full warm-up at the range – before focusing on the shot that mattered: A 122-yarder.

“I hit a bunch of those shots on the range. There was a pin exactly 122 yards away,” Palmer said.

He hit a 50-degree wedge to 3 feet, slipped in the putt to get to 10 under, then saved par with a slipper 10-foot putt at 18.

“The whole idea was to get two pars and get out of there,” said Palmer, who has played all week with a heavy heart, the death of a lifelong friend Thursday night crushing his spirits. “Now I’m going to go back and try to sleep.”

Stenson, who had been at 12 under midway through Saturday’s portion of Round 3 before bogeys at the par-5 11th and par-4 15th, parred 17 and 18 to stay at 10 under and said he, too, wanted to get back and take a nap. “But I have two kids and they’ll probably say, ‘Daddy’s home.’ “

In other words, the 2009 Players Championship winner probably didn’t like his chances to catch some more sleep.

More likely, Wittenberg, 28 and single, was going to be more successful in his bid to get some more sleep. It figured to be a comforting one, too, given that he returned with Lingmerth to the 18th tee, pushed his drive slightly, then drilled “my little 2-iron hybrid” to 39 feet and made the birdie putt.

It officially closed out a birdie-birdie-birdie finish to his round of 70 so Wittenberg, like Lingmerth, is clearly enjoying his first Players Championship. Heck, he wasn’t even unnerved by having to return over the demanding tee shot at 18.

“There are lot of other hard shots out here. It’s such situational golf,” he said. Then he smiled. It was barely 7:30 a.m., one part of his day was completed, the other part of his day was hours from commencement, “and so I’m going to go home and sleep and pack up a little bit.”

A short time later, Garcia completed his eventful resumption (he had bogeyed the 15th, birdied 16 and 17, and made a nice par-save at 18) and so, too, did Woods (par at 15, birdie at 16, pars at 17 and 18). Officially, they were in the books for third-rounds of 71 (Woods) and 72 (Garcia) and free to go about their fourth-round business without each other’s company.

Chances are, the latter is why they were smiling.

Or maybe the were happy to be tied for the lead.

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