82ºF

Players 3rd round: Young, crowded at the top

photo

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – For Chris Kirk, it'll be a game of patience and staying to himself. As the third round leader of the 2015 Players Championship, he admits, no lead is too large.

"If you've got a six shot lead at the turn, you're not going to be comfortable playing that back nine just because of the way the golf course is," Kirk said in his post round press conference after posting a 68 for 10 under through 54 holes and a one shot lead.

Kirk was the runner up in the FedEx Cup last year and won twice in 2014 including the McGladrey Classic at Sea Island. He doesn't plan on looking at many scoreboards tomorrow playing in the final group.

"It matters what I make on every hole because you have to add them all up at the end, but I mean, this is a golf course that, I mean it's not like you can ever get comfortable anyways, so what's the point?"

For every birdie made at the Stadium Course on Saturday, it seems there were two more to be had. At least that's what most players who moved up, but not far enough up, the leaderboard seemed to think. Former champions Adam Scott and Sergio Garcia both posted scores to stay in contention, but felt like they left a lot out there. Scott, the 2004 champion had six birdies and three bogeys en route to a 69 and is -6 for the tournament.

"I had my share of birdies today. If you take the bogeys away, all of the sudden you're looking at some mid 60 numbers. So that 64 is not outrageous in these kind of conditions."

Sergio Garcia seemed resigned to being able to keep his score in red numbers but not being able to go low enough because of his putting.

"It is what it is," he said with a shrug of his shoulders. "It's not the first time for me, hitting the ball beautifully and not making any putts."

Garcia still posted a 67 to move to 8 under par with an eagle and five birdies to go along with his two bogeys. When asked how his putting was the year he won here in 2008 Garcia quipped, "I had a great ball striking week."

It's possible to see some low scores if the conditions stay the same on Sunday. Justin Thomas made 10 birdies, a course record, en route to a 65 and 8 under through three rounds.

"Made three bogeys today and I'm like, dang, I made 10 birdies. That's a cool record to have."

Among the top ten players going into the final round, none have won a major championship. Bill Haas won the FedEx Cup and Sergio Garcia is a former Players Champion and international star but the rest are occasional winners, sometime contenders and the new face of professional golf: Young players with a college pedigree ready to win as soon as they get on Tour. "

They don't fear second place or first place, if that makes sense," Haas said after posting a 68 and is one shot back. "They don't want to finish second. They want to win."

Ben Martin is a perfect example. He's in The Players for the first time but is just one shot off the lead at -9 with eighteen holes to play.

"Even though it's my first time playing the tournament, I've played the course eight or 10 times before. So I don't feel like it's my first time playing."

Martin has played the Stadium on his own, in pro-ams and in college.

I had an overall sense of the layout and knew all the shots and shapes of the holes."

There are 30 players within five shots of the lead and with scoring conditions as they are; anybody at 5 under or better seems to have a realistic chance of winning.

"It takes a combination of you playing well and the other guy playing not so well," Garcia said when asked if he still had a chance.

Another example is Kevin Kisner. He's one shot back after a 67 today in his first Players Championship. He lost to Jim Furyk in a playoff at Hilton Head so he's pretty tough down the stretch. He's played the Stadium "three or four times" before the tournament, but it was more "drinking beer and riding in golf carts. It's a little bit different with all those people screaming at you."

Unless somebody runs away from the field, and that seems unlikely, it could be a shootout tomorrow. A low round by just about anybody could bring home the title.

"I'll have to have a Davis Love type of round (64) to win I think," Adam Scott said as he walked off.

Second-round leaders Kevin Na and Jerry Kelly both posted even par 72's and are two shots back. Na was tied for the lead but made double bogey on 18 to fall to -8. Still, he thinks a good round from that spot wins.

"I think 67 will seal the deal and I think 68's got a pretty darn good chance for a playoff," he said afterwards.

Na and Kelly will play together again at 1:55. Scott Brown and David Hearn at -8 are at 2:05. Justin Thomas and Sergio Garcia are at 2:15 and Ben Martin and Bill Haas are at 2:25. Leader Chris Kirk will play with Kevin Kisner in the final pairing, teeing off at 2:35.