PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Turbulence going out, nothing but smooth sailing coming home. Explain that shift in your third round of The Players Championship, Sergio Garcia?
“I guess if I had all the answers, I would have tried to play the front a little better,” the precocious one said, seemingly disenchanted with the question. Heck, he didn’t even seem that enamored with his round of 68, even though it sent him roaring up the leaderboard.
Having made the cut on the number (even-par 144), Garcia began the third round tied for 56th, but with a crisp, bogey-free 31 on his inward nine, he leapfrogged 42 players and will start the fourth round in a share of 14th.
“I hit some good shots on the front, but unfortunately I hit too many bad ones and I got strongly penalized for them,” Garcia said of an outward 37 that included a double-bogey at the par-5 second and bogeys at the fourth and seventh.
Garcia, who won here in 2008, confirmed that his knee started bothering him before his tee time, enough to send him to the fitness trailer. But “hopefully it will feel good tomorrow.”
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OH, TO BE LEFT-HANDED: Players who skirt the left side of the 18th fairway at TPC Sawgrass hold their breath for two reasons. One, the massive lake. Two, even if you stay out, you better be well clear of the edge or else you’re going to have a very disconcerting play.
For testimony, ask Zach Johnson. He thought his 300-yard drive at the closing hole “was in the middle of the fairway,” only it kicked left at the point where the fairway starts to bend left and when he got to his ball he had two issues. First, he was in light rough next to a divot, but worse than that, he had a stance perilously close to the water.
“I know I’m not going to fall in the water, but . . . “ Johnson said, shaking his head.
“I don’t like teeing off a cliff and following through.”
Yes, the feeling is that awkward, and while he told himself “don’t worry about it,” Johnson concedes he did keep it in the back of his mind. Though he had just 148 yards, “for some reason it’s hard for me to follow through when the water’s there. I can’t describe it. I hit a horrible shot and I should be able to get it on the green. It’s bizarre.”
Johnson didn’t get a healthy, clean swing on the ball, hit his shot just 130 yards, and wound up with a bogey to drop to 7 under, five off the lead.
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AND THE STREAK GOES ON: In an otherwise uneventful round of 75, Robert Allenby hit his wedge to 15 feet at the island-green 17th, turned to Bill Kratzert, smiled, and said, “There’s another one.”
It was a reference to the fact that Allenby has never hit it into the water in what is now 55 rounds at The Players Championship.
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SEPARATED AT BIRTH? Well, we doubt the resemblance is quite there, nor do we believe Phil Mickelson meant it seriously, but when asked who Rickie Fowler reminds him of, the lefthander laughed.
“Johnny Depp, a little bit, with the look,” Mickelson said. “Doesn’t he look exactly like him?”
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WITHIN THE RULES, BUT . . . Coming to the 18th hole late Friday, J.J. Henry needed to at least par the 18th to make the cut, yet it’s not a hole where one can be too conservative, not with a front left hole location because a long putt coming from the right side of the green would be slippery and could get away from you.
So, Henry played what might be called an aggressive shot and when it hit short and left of the hole and slid down a slope into the water, Henry might have thought his chances were sunk. At least until he reached the ground and found the point of entry into the water hazard and realized he would get two club lengths, which would afford him the chance to take his drop on the green.
Yes, it felt awkward.
“First time I’ve ever taken a penalty drop on the green,” Henry said. “A little strange, but sometimes it will make you play aggressively. If you do miss it, you can still salvage par.”
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BACK IN THE STARTING LINEUP: Kip Henley was back beneath the strap for his man, Brian Gay. But he’s not surprised that a little bit of fireworks had been delivered in his absence.
The veteran caddie had taken the day off Friday to return home as oldest daughter Darbi graduated from the University of Tennessee.
While Henley was gone, Gay had the highlight shot of Round 2, a sand wedge from 81 yards that found the bottom of the cup at the par 4 12th. Not that Henley was surprised, because he recalled one time when he needed the week off and Gay wound up making an ace during the tournament at Colonial CC.
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SHORTER, BETTER: Geoff Ogilvy gave thumbs-up to the decision to push up the tees at the par-5 ninth, something that most observers can’t remember having been done before. It usually plays between 570 and 580 yards, but playing downwind it was set up at just 542. Still, a small green complex with nothing but trouble if you miss was at the other end, so no surprise that only one eagle was made, by Harrison Frazar. It played to a field average of 4.750 (second-easiest) with 24 birdies and just two douuble-bogeys.
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SHORT SHOTS: Lee Westwood was the only player who failed to make a birdie in Round 3. With a round of 74, Westwood plummeted in the standings. Having started the day 3 under, tied for 17th and just five off the lead, the Englishman will start Round 4 in a tie for 43rd . . . . . Tough day for young Harris English. Going off in the penultimate group, alongside Matt Kuchar, English was just one off the lead, but a bogey, triple-bogey start sent him reeling. Out in 42, English had fallen 10 off the lead . . . . . Surprise name? How about Jeff Maggert, who has gone 70-71-71 to sit in a share of 14th at 4 under. He hasn’t qualified for this chamionship since 2008 and you have to go back to 2003 to find a time when he was inside the top 30 . . . . . Only two birdies were made at the par 4 14th, by Josh Teater and Tom Gillis. With a field average of 4.412, it played second-toughest. The fifth (4.458) played toughest . . . . . . Sloppiest finish of the day? It had to belong to Charlie Wi, who stood over a 45-foot putt for birdie at the 18th hole, at 7 under, just four off the lead. He missed that putt, then needed three more putts from just inside of 5 feet. The double-bogey dropped him into a share of 10th place, and he’s now seven behind.