Na battling a case of the waggles at Sawgrass

Kevin Na at No. 18 on Saturday at The Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass. He is in the lead heading into Sunday.

Kevin Na at No. 18 on Saturday at The Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass. He is in the lead heading into Sunday.

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PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – After three rounds of The Players, Kevin Na has the fewest strokes, by one, and the most waggles, by about 500. A gun-hating liberal probably has an easier time pulling the trigger.

Na shot 68 Saturday at TPC Sawgrass. But people seemed to spend more time counting his long waggles, short waggles and whiff-like swings when stepping out of address than his number of strokes.

This guy makes Ben Crane look like a bullet train. On the sixth tee, for example, the tally for Na went thusly: five practice swings, 24 waggles, two back-offs and one “Sorry, Zach.”

Na and playing competitor Zach Johnson were put on the clock on the 10th tee and taken off on the 17th tee. In between, Na got a bad time when hitting his second shot on No. 16. Two bad times in a round call for a one-stroke penalty, though the PGA Tour hands those out like manhole covers. The last player to be docked strokes for dallying was Dillard Pruitt at the 1992 Byron Nelson.

To his credit, Na knows he has a problem. He says it stems from his inability to get comfortable over the ball since he changed swing coaches in the spring of 2011.

“Because my balance at the setup is totally different, I don’t feel comfortable,” he said. “I’m trying to get comfortable with my waggles.”

He wants his routine to go like this: little waggle, half waggle, little waggle, half waggle, go. But when it goes longer, he said, “there’s a lot going on in my head.”

That often means he steps away from the ball and restart. It often means an apology to the person he’s playing with and a scream at himself.

“I’m not being nice to myself, trust me,” Na said. “I’m ripping myself. As ugly as it is and as painful as it is, believe me: It’s really tough for me, and I’m trying.”

The remarkable thing is that Na has played so well despite the demons. I mean, the guy goes from a locked-up state to a swing that produces beautiful shots in a nanosecond.

“What’s impressive is that he has those problems over the ball and then hits really good shots,” Johnson said.

Will Na win The Players? Will guilt get the better of him? Tune in Sunday.

One thing seems certain. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard a third-round leader say, “I’m fighting within myself in my mind.”

Criticism of his pace is nothing new. He’s used to it. He says players aren’t wild about being paired with him, adding some will talk about drawing the short straw.

“I get ripped a lot,” Na said. “I know TV, Twitters and fans are tired of me backing off. I understand people being frustrated with me backing off, but all I can tell you guys is honestly, I’m trying, and it’s hard for me, too.

“Just bear with me, and hopefully we get that tomorrow round in.”

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