Garcia charges as Stanley, Holmes share Players lead
Masters champion Sergio Garcia charged into contention during Saturday’s windy third round of The Players Championship while Americans Kyle Stanley and J.B. Holmes shared the lead after 54 holes.
Spain’s Garcia, the 2008 Players winner, and Argentina’s Emiliano Grillo each fired five-under par 67s at the TPC Sawgrass course to leap up the leaderboard even as Holmes and Stanley clung to the lead of the US PGA Tour event at nine-under 207.
“Even though it was much tougher with the windy conditions and how gusty it was out there, I was able to hit some really quality shots,” Garcia said.
In his first start since last month’s breakthrough win at Augusta National after 73 prior major failures, Garcia shined with six birdies, three bogeys and a 17-foot chip-in eagle at the par-5 16th.
“I’ve always been confident with myself,” Garcia said. “I’ve always believed in the ability that I have. It does help to win a major and to win the Masters the way I did it, but I don’t feel like I’m that different a player — maybe a little bit more confidence here and there, but that’s about it.”
Stanley fired and 72 and Holmes a 70 with each making a birdie at the par-3 17th island green to stay one stroke ahead of South African Louis Oosthuizen, who shot 73 to stand on 208.
South Korea’s Kim Si-Woo was fourth on 209 after a 68 with Grillo and Britain’s Ian Poulter on 210 and Garcia sharing seventh on 211 with American Patrick Cantlay and Swede Alex Noren.
Stanley, who birdied 17 for the third day in a row, took his only PGA title at the 2012 Phoenix Open. It came a week after his only prior 54-hole lead, a six-shot edge that he squandered at Torrey Pines, a triple bogey at the last hole leading to a playoff loss to Brandt Snedeker.
“I know what I’m capable of doing. I’m happy with the way things are,” Stanley said.
As for his success at 17, Stanley said, “It’s a nerve-wracking hole. It’s nice to play it well.”
Holmes made an 18-foot birdie putt at the 11th and five-footers at 12 and 17 for birdies to boost his chances of his fifth PGA title, his first since the 2015 Houston Open.
“I’ve made some great putts. I feel really good over the putter,” Holmes said. “It would be awesome to win this tournament. I just want to have fun tomorrow, win or lose, enjoy it no matter what happens.”
Poulter unflappable in wind
Kim birdied the par-5 second and ninth holes, began the back nine with another birdie had a tap-in birdie at 12. He found the water at the par-5 16th and made bogey but answered with a five-foot birdie putt at the par-3 17th.
“My shot feels really good and I’m getting better,” Kim said. “Just trying to be aggressive in these conditions.”
Poulter, whose last victory was at the 2012 World Golf Championships event in China, looked to lose his US tour playing rights before a recalculation of points earned on a medical exemption showed the 41-year-old Englishman had done enough to keep his card.
“It was a relief to get the call to say you’re good, you did enough to secure your card,” Poulter said. “To come here this week and play well means an awful lot.”
Poulter made 17 pars and a birdie, dropping his approach two feet from the cup and tapping in at the par-5 second.
“It was extremely difficult,” Poulter said. “It was very gusty. The key to me was to be patient, don’t go pin hunting, don’t make silly decisions.
“I had a lot of opportunities over the last few holes. I didn’t take advantage of them, but I’m in a great position for tomorrow.”