A hat trick of birdies gives O'Hair the lead

Phil Mickelson, Bunker, Third Round, Players Championship
David Cannon/Getty Images
Phil Mickelson's best finish at the Players was a tied for third in 2004.

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Sean O'Hair braced for the worst as his ball descended toward an island green that suddenly looked smaller. He bowed his head, then stuck his hand on his hip as he waited to see his ball disappear into the water.

It worked out better than he could have imagined Saturday at The Players Championship.

What looked like trouble on the infamous 17th hole turned into the centerpiece of a birdie-birdie-birdie finish for O'Hair, who wound up with a 6-under 66 and a one-shot lead over Phil Mickelson going into the final round of golf's richest tournament.

"After that hole, I felt like puking," O'Hair said.

Mickelson narrowly escape trouble down the stretch. His tee shot on the par-5 16th rattled through the trees on the right until it popped out in the first cut of rough, and he carved an approach from about 235 yards to 20 feet for a two-putt birdie. His final tee shot was high and hugging the lake down the left side, but settled in the fairway. He stuck his approach 2 feet away for birdie and a 69.

O'Hair was at 9-under 207 and will be paired with Mickelson in the final group.

But this is hardly a two-man show at the TPC Sawgrass.

Peter Lonard made a double eagle on the par-5 second — the second albatross this week — and played bogey-free the rest of his round until getting stuck behind a tree and dropping a shot on the last hole for a 68. He was at 7-under 209 along with former U.S. Amateur champion Jeff Quinney, who shot a tournament-best 64 in the morning to put his name atop the leaderboard.

Jose Coceres was among five players who had at least a share of the lead, but that changed when his 8-iron hopped over the island green and he took double bogey.

"I just let the pressure of 17 get to me, and I just hit it too hard," Coceres said after his 68.

One guy who took himself out of the tournament was Tiger Woods, who failed to break par for the fifth straight round at The Players. He shot 73 — leaving him 14 strokes back at 5 over — and walked off the course without speaking to reporters.

Woods snap-hooked a fairway metal into the water for double bogey on No. 7, pulled his tee shot on the next hole and made another bogey and couldn't make up any ground on a day when everyone else was firing off birdies.

He played with Henrik Stenson, whose eagle-birdie-par finish gave him a 66.

Joey Sindelar played alone in the first group and predicted a wild day when he said, "You could be on offense today."

And they were.

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