PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — Those who chose to focus on Saturday’s final pairing of Tiger Woods and Sergio Garcia certainly got their money’s worth, but there was more than enough elsewhere to satisfy the wandering eye.
The third round of the Players Championship produced a whiff, a ball lost high in a tree, grumbling from Garcia that may have targeted Woods, and a near-unknown holding the lead when play was called.
A weather delay of almost two hours prevented everyone from finishing their rounds. When the horn blew for the second time — this time signaling that play was done for the day — a 25-year-old Swede making his Players debut was alone at the top. David Lingmerth used an eagle at the par-5 16th hole to join Garcia at 11 under par, then found himself in sole possession of the lead when Garcia made a bogey minutes later at No. 14.
Lingmerth knocked his tee shot within 10 feet of the hole on the island-green 17th, and after the horn blew, had the option of marking his ball and heading in, or finishing the hole. Lingmerth chose to play on, and confidently buried his birdie putt to reach 12 under, taking a two-stroke lead over Garcia and Woods (14 holes completed) and Henrik Stenson (16).
Third-round play will resume at 7:10 a.m. Sunday, and players will be re-paired according to score for the fourth round.
Not familiar with Lingmerth? You’re not alone. He’s been a resident of nearby Jacksonville Beach since December, and made the short drive to TPC Sawgrass having missed the cut in his last five tournaments, and eight of his last 10. He lost the Humana Challenge in a playoff in only the second start of his PGA Tour career, until now the lone highlight of his rookie season.
Suddenly he’s leading the Players Championship — and two of golf’s biggest names — with one pressure-filled day left to play.
“Obviously, thrilled to be in this position. It’s going to be a fun day tomorrow,” said Lingmerth, who played college golf at Arkansas and has one professional victory, on last year’s Web.com Tour, which he used to earn his privileges on the PGA Tour this season. “Having those guys behind me, I know they’re going to try to hunt me down. I’m just going to try to forget about all that and just try to do my thing.”
Garcia began the third round in the lead, one shot in front of Woods, two ahead of Stenson, three clear of Lingmerth. But it was Garcia’s grouping with Woods that was guaranteed to draw the largest crowds and the most attention.
It didn’t disappoint, and took an interesting turn during the weather delay, which began at 4:07 p.m. and lasted until 5:57.
Garcia and Woods have a history with each other: Competitive through the years, and not entirely pleasant. There wasn’t going to be a whole lot of chit-chat between the two in the final pairing, and not only because there was so much at stake.
During the delay, Garcia was interviewed on NBC, and appeared to take issue with what transpired when he was playing his second shot on the par-5 second hole, which he bogeyed. Playing first (Woods had pulled his drive left, but would go on to make birdie), Garcia fanned his second shot well right, and immediately looked in Woods’s direction after completing his swing, apparently distracted by noise from the gallery.
“Well, obviously Tiger was on the left and it was my shot to hit. I wouldn’t say he didn’t see that I was ready, but you do have a feel when the other guy is going to hit. Right as I was in the top of the backswing, I think he must have pulled like a 5-wood or a 3-wood and obviously everybody started screaming. So that didn’t help very much,” Garcia said. “I think that I try to respect everyone as much as possible out there. I try to be careful what I do to make sure it doesn’t bother the other players.”
A not-so-subtle dig at Woods?
“Not real surprising that he’s complaining about something,” Woods said after play was called.
Countered Garcia: “At least I’m true to myself. I know what I’m doing.”
Garcia trailed Stenson by two shots when he made a birdie at No. 9, and pulled even when Stenson took a sloppy bogey at the par-5 11th. Garcia re-took the lead with a splendid shot to the par-3 13th that led to a short birdie, but gave that back with the bogey on the next hole.
Woods made 11 straight pars to close his day, after he offset a birdie at the second with a three-putt bogey on No. 3.
He’ll return to finish three-plus holes with Garcia Sunday morning, then will get ready for the fourth round, trying to win the Players for the time since 2001.
Perhaps he’ll be paired in the final round with Lingmerth, who acknowledged that a good night’s sleep might prove elusive. Or maybe Woods and Garcia will be sent back out together again, with the tension as thick as the Florida humidity.
Whatever happens, Sunday at the Players promises to be an interesting ride.