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For Lee Westwood, mighty swing comes up empty

Only two shots off the lead when the day began, Lee Westwood was six shots back when play was suspended.

sam greenwood/getty images

Only two shots off the lead when the day began, Lee Westwood was six shots back when play was suspended.

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — Of all the negative results that can come from swinging a golf club, a whiff — the sport’s ultimate embarrassment — is the absolute last thing in the mind of a PGA Tour player.

Yet that’s what happened to Lee Westwood in Saturday’s third round of the Players Championship, a surprising swing-and-miss on the first hole at the TPC Sawgrass Stadium Course.

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Westwood’s opening tee shot was pulled left and nestled near a tree, his ball lying on pine straw, right up against the rough. Westwood could freely take his stance, and had a clean takeaway and backswing. But as he began the downswing, his clubhead made contact with the tree, sending it off the intended path, and Westwood swung 3 or 4 inches ahead of the ball, not coming close to making contact.

His second attempt was better — he successfully advanced the ball — but it still led to a double bogey, one of two Westwood made over the first four holes. He was the only player through 36 holes without a bogey or worse.

Only two shots behind Sergio Garcia at the start of the round at 9 under, Westwood had fallen to 6 under, six shots off the pace, when play was suspended.

It’s not the first time Westwood has encountered tree trouble in a big event. He was in contention during the final round of last year’s US Open when his drive on the par-4 fifth hole stayed up in a tree at the Olympic Club. That also led to a double bogey; Westwood tied for 10th, four shots behind winner Webb Simpson.

Hunter Mahan was only two shots off the lead when his drive on the 15th hole Saturday flew into a tree left of the fairway and never came down. Like Westwood at Olympic, Mahan was given binoculars in an attempt to locate and identify his ball. Television cameras found it, and Mahan was able to confirm it looking through the lens that it was his. He took a one-stroke unplayable lie, but couldn’t salvage bogey and made double, his second of the round.

Birdie binge

Another day, another lengthy birdie streak at the Players. Scott Stallings opened with five straight on Thursday. Garcia also made five straight on Friday. In the third round it was Louis Oosthuizen’s turn, and he did them one better, matching the tournament record with six consecutive birdies, starting at the par-5 ninth.

Laser-like approach shots set up the first five: He holed putts of 2, 4, 5, 4, and 6 feet on Nos. 9-13. At the par-4 14th, looking to tie the Players record for consecutive birdies (previously done six times, most recently by Tim Herron in 2005), Oosthuizen was finally forced to make a long putt, and promptly buried his attempt from 56 feet.

The streak was snapped at the 15th, when he burned the edge on a 10-footer.

Seven straight would have tied the streak he rode to the lead during the third round of last year’s Deutsche Bank Championship, when he poured in putts on Nos. 4-10 at TPC Boston.

Oosthuizen eventually tied for second at the DBC. His six straight birdies Saturday were the highlights in a third-round 67 that pushed him to 5 under, and into a tie for 18th when third-round play was suspended.

One and done

Chris Stroud used a 6-iron from 188 yards to make a hole-in-one on No. 13, the 11th time the hole has been aced in tournament history. There now have been 30 holes-in-one at the Players, 26 at TPC Sawgrass.

It was a first for Stroud. Well, sort of.

“It’s only my seventh hole-in-one, and you don’t get to have many hole-in-ones very often,” said Stroud, who shot 69 and is at 5 under. “Actually, it’s my first hole-in-one on the PGA Tour in regulation play. How about that?”

Up and down

How does one make an eagle and two birdies on the front nine and still shoot 39? Ask Martin Laird. The native Scotsman eagled No. 2, and had birdies on Nos. 5 and 7. But he also made bogeys at the first, third, and sixth, and finished the side with double bogeys at the eighth and ninth . . . Boston resident James Driscoll birdied two of his last three holes, shooting a 70 to finish 54 holes at 3 under, which was tied for 38th . . . Angel Cabrera used a birdie-eagle-birdie stretch on Nos. 15-17 to shoot 69 and also finish at 3 under . . . Bo Van Pelt (11th hole) and Ben Curtis (16th) both made triple-bogey 8s, and after shooting 79 and 80, respectively, were the last two in the field.

Michael Whitmer can be reached at mwhitmer@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeWhitmer.
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