Webb Simpson not only stayed ahead but actually extended his lead from five to seven on the third day of the PLAYERS Championship. Yet Tiger Woods, who dominated the front nine and Jordan Spieth, who collared the back nine, to card 65 each, were the ones who held the spotlight.
Overnight leader Webb Simpson (68) did not let slip-up, though he much more subdued in comparison to the second round, though the focus on Saturday was on Woods and Spieth, who rose from the cutline to shoot 65 each and climb into Top-10.
Simpson (68) ended at 19-under, which equaled the record for a 54-hole total and he holds the largest lead at seven in the history of PLAYERS.
Simpson is seven clear of Danny Lee (70) and nine ahead of Dustin Johnson (69), while five players were at 9-under. Among the seven at 8-under and 11 behind were Tiger Woods and Jordan Spieth, who shot 65 each and are capable of coming out with that or better yet again.
Simpson, who had four birdies, an eagle and two bogeys in his 68, said, “I feel like I’m playing good, solid golf, but … I’ve holed out a few times from off the green and made some long putts,” Simpson said. “To get that score, you have to do that.”
In the morning, Woods and Spieth, starting at 1-under for the event, finished the third day at 8-under.
Woods dominated the first 12 holes, during which he had eight birdies, but then the birdies dried up. His 6-under 30 front nine was his best 9-hole score at the PLAYERS and raised visions of a 59, just like it did when Webb Simpson was on a roll on Friday. Woods’ run came to an end when he bogeyed the Par-4 14th . He had no birdies in last six holes to finish at 65.
Was he also disappointed? “Yeah, I mean to be 8-under through 12, realistically I probably could have got a couple more and got to 10 for the day. It wasn't a bad tee shot at 14 and I don't make birdie at 16. 17's a sand wedge in there, but I'll take it.”
While Woods was burning up the front nine, Spieth turned in 2-under 34, but on the back nine, he had two hat-tricks of birdies. First from 11th to 13th and then again on the last three holes. But in between he dropped a shot on Par-4 14th.
On the momentum building, Spieth said, “Yeah, especially with the putter. I think I was perfect inside of 10 to 15 feet today and anywhere inside, which was probably the first time this year. I actually drove the ball unbelievably well the first two days and I hit my driver really poorly today and shot 7-under. So it just shows you where it actually matters and that's on the greens.”
Asia’s flag bearer, Kiradech Aphibarnrat made two trips to the water on successive holes and a round that was looking great till then slipped out of his hands on the third day of the PLAYERS.
The burly Thai, who has had two Top-5 finishes at the WGC this year and is close to getting to the PGA Tour, finished 1-under 71 for the third day running after being 3-under through 15 at which point he was 5-under for the event.
He went into water on Par-5 16th but made par and again went into the water on the dreaded 17th’s Island Green for a double bogey. He ended at 1-under for the day with 3-under total.
Kiradech said, “I have played very consistent golf, 71 for all three days. I think I’m almost there, hitting the ball better. I was three under before reaching 17 and hit a poor shot there. I ended up with one under.”
He added, “I turned in two under which was a good result and I was aiming four or five under. But I hit into the water on 16, from where I made a good par save and then went into water again on 17. I’ve been trying so hard this week, try to go low tomorrow.”