PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — He hasn’t finished better than 46th in any tournament this year, and doesn’t own a top-10 finish at the Players Championship since 2000. Oh, and Jeff Maggert is 49 years old.
But there Maggert was, signing for a third-round 66 on Saturday, his third straight under-par round on the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass. Even with a bogey at No. 18, Maggert’s 54-hole total of 9 under par was tied for fifth when play was suspended for the day. Everyone else around him — Sergio Garcia, Tiger Woods, Henrik Stenson, and leader David Lingmerth — was on the back nine when the horn blew.
None of those names — save for Lingmerth — is a surprise to be near the Players lead. Maggert’s name certainly is.
“You know, my expectations are the same as they were 10 years ago. I expect to play well and put myself in a position to be competitive on Sunday,” Maggert said. “It just doesn’t happen quite as often as it used to.”
Maggert owns three PGA Tour wins, the last coming in 2006. That’s the only year since 2004 that he’s finished among the tour’s top 100 money winners. Over the last five-plus seasons, Maggert has just five top-10 efforts in 141 tournament starts, so he’s not exactly showing up on leaderboards every other week.
So, why this week?
“I just felt like this golf course would kind of fall into my favor, the way I’ve been hitting the ball this year, and it was just a matter of trying to make a few putts,” Maggert said.
A tour member since 1991 who has won more than $18 million in his career, Maggert might best be known for getting hit by his own golf ball when he held the final-round lead at the 2003 Masters. His fairway bunker shot on No. 3 at Augusta National ricocheted off the lip and struck Maggert in the chest, a cruel break that cost him a chance at winning his first major championship.
His best finish at the Players is a pair of thirds, in 1994 and 2000. It’s a course he enjoys playing, but his record lately — T33, T46, T45, missed cut, withdrew, T35 — strongly suggested that his best days here were behind him.
Maggert, who will be eligible for the Champions Tour when he turns 50 in February, acknowledged as much when asked what his goal for the week was.
“To make the cut,” he said. “It’s funny, the older I get, some of the struggles that I’ve been through, I joke a little bit about that. I’m still very competitive on the inside and want to play well every week, but it’s just tough, trying to keep it together and keep your health in good shape. One week my wrist hurts, the next week my shoulder hurts. I’m working my way through it.”
Six birdies over his first 10 holes Saturday got Maggert to 9 under, and a 7-footer for birdie at No. 16 pulled him into a tie for the lead, with Woods, Garcia, and Stenson, all of whom had just started their third rounds.
He missed a good look for birdie at the 17th, then couldn’t save par on No. 18 after bunkering his approach. Those late stumbles didn’t dampen his enthusiasm for being back in the hunt. After all, it’s been a while.
“You know, that’s why I’m here,” Maggert said, when asked if he could see himself winning on Sunday. “We’ve still got that in our blood. This course in particular probably really suits my style of game at this point in my career. I feel I can come out and hit the well and shoot a good score.”Michael Whitmer can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeWhitmer.