By petedirenzo
Saturday, May 09, 2009

Connell Barrett, editor-at-large for GOLF Magazine, covered the third round of the Players Championship. Feel free to leave a comment and join the discussion for the final round on Sunday at 2 p.m. EST.

7:12PM Who ya got tomorrow? I don't care if he leads by 5 or trails by 5, Tiger Woods in the final group is always the favorite. This is a man who wins majors on broken legs. His mere presence counts for a good 3 strokes. (Just ask O'Hair at Bay Hill.) Can No. 267 hold off No. 1? I say no, but I can't wait to find out. Thanks for reading/watching with us here at Golf.com. It was a blast. We'll see you tomorrow! 7:08PM Cejka drops his birdie putt -- call it a 4-footer -- dead center. 11-under, and a 5-shot lead. Poulter makes his par putt, tied at 6-under.  7:03PM Cejka's shot of the day! He knocks an iron to 3 feet on 18. He's poised to take a 5-shot lead over a cluster of players at 6-under, including his likely playing partner tomorrow, Tiger Woods. Poulter flew the flag and needs to get up and down from off the back collar. 6:59PM Na drains his putt for bogey on 18. He gives a quick, if not heartfelt, shake of the hand to Cabrera, who apparently complained to an official earlier for Na's pokey play.   6:57PM Cejka and Poulter both split the 18th fairway. Unless Poulter birdies the last, Tiger and Cejka will play in the final group tomorrow. 6:54PM Who needs Phil the Thrill when we have Kevin Na? Attempting to punch out of the right rough on 18, Na -- DONK! -- hits a tree with his second, then finds deep greenside rough with his third. He'll need a Tiger-like up-and-down to save bogey.   6:51PM Poulter, aiming at a 45-degree angle from the hole, eases a long, twisting putt to a few inches. Cejka misses a birdie by that much, burning the right edge from 25 feet. Two no-sweat par tap-ins on 17. 6:45PM On 17, Cejka finds safety in the center of the green, high and dry. Poulter's tee shot is also dry, though both face lengthy birdie putts. 6:42PM Na makes bogey, and is now tied with about 77 people at 6-under (including you-know-who). 6:40PM Chipping with a hybrid from the green's top level, Na rolls his second on 17 to about 9 feet past the hole. He'll have a nervous par putt. Cejka and Poulter walk toward the Island Hole. 6:37PM Cejka's choice to play it safe and lay up on 16 doesn't hurt him; he taps in for a par. Poulter follows suit with par. 6:36PM Na nearly rinses his tee shot on 17, stopping it on the back collar, 2 inches from the murky depths. He asks his caddie: "Did you see how far that went? I took something off it!" 6:32PM After a 3-putt bogey on 17, Toms' tee shot on 18 now sleeps with the fishes. Stenson, who has bogeyed 3 of the last 4 holes, follows with a nifty drive into the fairway's first cut. 6:30PM Kevin Na, shaking off a triple-bogey, drains his eagle putt on 16, to take over solo second (7-under). His mental-game coach deserves a huge raise! 6:25PM Don't call it a comeback! Kevin Na hits the approach o' the day on 16; he has a fairly short eagle putt to climb back into a tie for second. Stenson squanders a brilliant tee shot on 17 by 3-jacking from (this is not a mis-print) 7 feet. Bogey.   6:19PM Pressure? What pressure? Stenson sticks a wedge to 6 feet. A superb swing. 6:17PM Toms finds 17's green, no worries. Stenson's turn. 6:14PM Bogey for Stenson. He's at 7-under. Now, he takes a loooong walk to the tee on 17. Nervous? I'm guessing that the butterflies in his stomach are dry-heaving. 6:14PM Stenson leaves his chip well short of the hole on 16. Is it possible? Could it be? Might Tiger be tied for second by the end of play today? His round looks better and better. 6:10PM Stenson blasts his sand shot through the green on 16 and (holding... my... breath) rolls to a stop 3 inches from the water. He has an awkward stance for a birdie chip that's longer than Moby Dick. 6:08PM Bogey for Cejka on 14. His lead (at 10-under) is now 2 over Stenson. But for how long? Stenon's second shot into the green on 16 buried in a greenside bunker.  6:04PM Ben Crane rolls in an eagle putt on 16, to reach 5-under par. Then he has his caddie toss the ball to a fan sitting nearby. Classy move! Can you see Steve Williams doing that? But Ben, do you really want to give away free golf balls with the Island Hole awaiting? Just asking...) 5:57PM Cejka gives one back, missing a short par putt on 13. He drops back to 11-under. Stenson makes his 4 on no. 15. I'm reminded of what Johnny Miller once said about the U.S. Open. "Pars wear little white hats." Today, par is a great score. 5:51PM Tiger, by the way, is now tied for 3rd. 5:49PM Kevin Na makes a triple on 13, dropping from 7-under to 4-under. How does that old song by Steam go? "Na na na na... Hey Hey... Good bye." 5:43PM Cejka's trying to run and hide. Two birdies in a row stretch his lead to 3 strokes, through 12. 5:42PM Na snaps a 5-iron into the water on the par-3 13th, the first player to rinse one there all day. You have to think that a confluence of negative events back on 11 -- Cabrera's complaint about Na's alleged slow play and Na's monster pull from the fairway -- have conspired to wreak havoc on Na's head and swing. Head down and brooding, he looks rattled. Get your head together, Kevin. The Island Green awaits. 5:37PM Island Hole trivia. Course officials estimate that divers retrieve 150,000 balls yearly from the lake surrounding the 17th green. With some 45,000 rounds play annually at the Stadium Course, the average golfer -- on average -- dunks 3 balls in the drink there. 5:31PM Blimey! The spikey-haired Brit makes a double-oh-six on the par-5 11th, Poulter's third bogey in the last 4 holes. He looks shaken, and slurred. He falls to 6-under. Then Cejka rolls in his birdie putt to get it back to par on the day, 11-under for the event. He leads Stenson by 2. 5:25PM After finding the water on 11, Poulter steadies his nerves -- or anger, more likely -- and sticks an iron to about 6 feet. If he can save par, that may well propel him to good things the rest of his round. He hasn't been dialed-in all day. 5:20PM Courtesy of SI Senior Editor Dick Friedman, who'll be performing at Yuck-Yuck's all weekend... I can see an Abbott and Costello comedy routine: "Do you know who's going to win? "Na." "But I thought you said you knew about golf!" "Na!" "Can you even tell me who's winning now?" "Cejka." "And after you're done checking, will you get back to me with the winner?" "Na!!"

5:16PM Intrigue! Na's playing partner, Angel Cabrera, has complained to an official about Na's pace of play. One wonders if the complaint came long before that brutal pull of Na's back in the 11th fairway. 5:14PM Na did well to leave his third shot left of the green, but behind a large mound with precious little green to work with. He pitched his fourth about 15 feet over the pin. A likely bogey. The question is: Will he be thinking of that dead pull at the top of his backswing for the rest of his round? 5:09PM Kevin Nananana no! "That was more of a stinker than a stinger," Johnny says after Na hit an atrocious pull with his fairway wood approach on the par-5 11th. He drew an ugly lie beneath a nest of pine needles. 5:05PM Slowly but surely, 2-time U.S. Open winner Retief Goosen has moved it to 7-under. He has a good look at birdie on 17. 5:01PM Cejka and Poulter both make par on 10. 4:59PM Woods holes out for his par on 18, for a 2-under 70. He's at 6-under, and currently tied for 6th. 4:55PM Na 3-putts the 10th green -- his first 3-putt this week -- to drop to 8-under. Cejka's iron approach on 10 rolls off the front of the green. He'll have to scramble to avoid falling to 9-under.  4:51PM Tiger chips to 3 feet. He should save his par. Hicks makes an astute point. Woods clearly has no game this week (by his sky-high standards), but here he is, on the first page of the leaderboard. A testament to Tiger's greatness, we must admit. 4:49PM Pulling a 6-iron from the right rough on 18, Tiger gets a big break. He hits a low, red-hot runner under a tree about 198 yards that runs through the green and... finally... stops ... inches from the water. Phew. What's the old expression? It's better to be lucky than Woods. 4:46PM Cejka bogeys no. 9, his second bogey in the last 3 holes. Poulter joins him, making a second straight bogey to fall to 7-under. Back to 18. Remember when Tiger's knock-down 3-wood stingers always found sunshine, back in the day? Those days are gone. He hit a stinger fade into roughly the same spot he found yesterday. He needs Mapquest to find his tee game today. 4:41PM And Tiger may well draw closer. Cejka left himself a 10-footer for par on no. 9, after making Alpo of the par-5. 4:38PM Tiger cuuuuuuuuurls in a slippery 6-footer, for a birdie on 17. A perfect putt. Chopra follows suit with his kick-in 2. Just like that, Woods is within 5. 4:37PM Chopra nearly wedges in on 17. He has a 2-footer that Sergio after 3 cappuccinos wouldn't miss. 4:34PM Woods hits a mighty fine wedge to the front pin on 17, leaving a downhill putt of about 7 feet. 4:32PM Johnny tells us, as Tiger reaches no. 17: "120 yards is as short as this hole has played in 7 years." 4:30PM Tiger's eagle putt runs out of gas. He taps in for birdie on 16. 4:29PM Blog reader "HardDraw" chimes in about the state of Tiger's driving: "Good on Johnny Miller to speak the truth about Tiger's ability to drive the ball. He has no clue what the heck he doing with the driver. Funny to see a guy who was a more than decent driver of the ball become a pathetic figure. Truly sad." 4:24PM After a solid drive on the par-5 16th, Tiger knocks a 220-yard 5-iron to 30-40 feet. He'll have a long eagle putt. Poulter gives one back on the par-3 8th, failing to get up and down after a poor tee shot. He drops back to 8-under. 4:20PM Cejka makes bogey on 7, to drop to 11-under. His scorecard's first blemish of the day. Toms moves into a tie for third, at 8-under. 4:17PM Tiger makes bogey on no. 15, after a fluffy chip. Miller offers some bizarre advice to Steve Williams. "If I was Tiger's caddie," Miller says, "I would say to Tiger, if you make a putt, smile. He's got the best smile in all of sports, and he does not smile anymore." So, the missing link in Tiger's game is his smile? Thanks, Johnny.   4:12PM Kevin Na chips in on no. 8, moving to 9-under and just 3 off the lead. 4:09PM After Tiger finds the greenside rough with his approach on the par-4 15th, NBC's Peter Jacobsen got off a nice line. Tiger's teacher Hank Haney has been working with hacker extraordinaire Charles Barkley on Golf Channel. Said Jake: "[Hank] was hoping Tiger would wear off on Charles, but I think Charles is wearing off on Tiger." 4:04PM Kevin Na (nanananana) makes his birdie putt. 4:01PM We have a Kevin Na sighting on NBC! He has a likely birdie on no. 7, to go to 8-under -- just 4 back.  I don't see Cejka, Poulter or the rest of the leaders giving Tiger any help. It's Moving Day for Woods, but in golf, as in life, your friends never want to help you move. 3:53PM A 3-shot lead for Cejka. Can you really win the Players Championship as the 267th ranked player in the world? 3:51PM Cejka rolls in his birdie putt on 5. He's now at 12-under. 3:47PM OK, today’s Golf.com blog challenge: Give me your suggested nickname for no. 17. After all, it’s the most famous hole in golf. Yet they call it… The Island Hole? (Yawn!) We can do better. Royal Troon gives us The Postage Stamp. Carnoustie begat a hole called South America. And Augusta's holes all have names. So, send me your (PG-rated!) nicknames for the Island Hole. I'll highlight the best brainstorms in this space. My suggestions: Hell and High Water Splash and Burn Public Enema No. 1 3:43PM On 13, Tiger misses his birdie putt high. His shoulders slump. Cejka, though, is playing like a man who likes the spotlight. He'll have 12-15 feet for birdie on 5, to reach 12-under. Uphill putt. I think he makes it. 3:39PM And, cue: Jimmy's heart-tugging treacle. Cejka's story is great, but why do my teeth suddenly hurt? 3:32PM Hey, NBC. Last I checked, Kevin Na was at 7-under, just 4 strokes back, and right in this thing. Maybe you could show him once per hour? If we get a mawkish Jimmy Roberts "essay" before we see the likeable-as-all-get-out Na, I'm writing a letter to Johnny Miller! 3:28PM Tiger bounces back on 12 with a birdie, to climb back to within 6 of the lead. 3:24PM Question, golf fans. Who has disappointed you most this week? Sergio? Phil? Sports Illustrated's Dick Friedman nominates Geoff Ogilvy. "He's gone backward today, has hit only 47.5% of fairways and 56% of greens this week. Is this course just not set up for him?" 3:21PM Call it local knowledge. Ponte Vedra resident Jim Furyk's tee shot on 17 comes to a halt on the Island Hole's narrow walking path. Furyk may need to chip left-handed. Paging Tiger Woods! 3:18PM Stenson birdies the tough par-4 5th to tie Poulter at 9-under for a share of second place. 3:15PM Cejka scares the hole on the par-3 3rd. He'll have a nice look at birdie, to extend his lead. Poulter dumps his tee shot short of the green. And Tiger? He bumps a 3-metal, but it trickles past the hole. Bogey. He drops to 4-under for the week. 3:13PM Instead of flopping it, Tiger hits a lower-trajectory pitch for his 4th that he tried to spin. It didn't. He rolls off the back of the green. A bogey looms. 3:10PM Back to Tiger's Wild Ride, on 11. Needing to a hit a mammoth slice from a hook lie, from 190 yards out -- around a towering oak tree -- Tiger donned his Seve mask, took a big swing... but the 5-iron didn't cut. He left his ball off the left side of the green, with little green to work with. He'll need a crafty up-and-down to save par, likely needing a flop shot to get close. 3:05PM There's a new Lefty in town! Tiger goes southpaw with his second shot on 11, flipping an iron over and making like Phil (TW's tee ball nestled near a tree, making a regular swing impossible.) Tiger takes a smooth cut and puts the ball back in play, off the right side of the fairway. What does it say about Woods' swing that his best lash of the day was left-handed? 3:01PM Tiger double-crosses himself with driver and hooks it left of the fairway on the par-5 11th. "He has no clue with the driver," Johnny says. 2:59PM The Island Hole will tantalize players today. The front pin rests about 120 yards from the tee. Mike Weir’s caddie said we might see an ace there today, since the green will funnel well-placed shots toward the hole.

2:55PM Using a putter from just off the front, Tiger cozies his third shot to tap-in range on 10. He'll make par. 2:52PM Tiger's swing went AWOL on no. 10. Woods blocks a wedge from a mere 128 yards in the fairway, leaving it on the front collar. He twirls his club in frustration, head down, and walks to the green to try to scramble for par. It's the worst swing I've seen him make all week. 2:48PM Cejka calmly--and quickly--rolls in his par putt. That should be a booster shot for his confidence. 2:45PM Poulter will tap in for an easy par. Cejka made a nervous putt from off the collar that leaves him about 10 frightening feet for par.  2:42PM Poulter and Cejka have work to do on 1 green. Poulter left his approach short of the green, and Cejka's approach from a mere 125 yards rolled off the right side of the green. Can they both get up and down to save par? This will be a telling test of their nerves. 2:40PM Poulter takes a confident lash at his opening tee shot on 1 but finds the left rough. There's a lot of pressure for a Euro to make his first win in the States an event of this magnitude, Johnny Miller says. Fair point. But Poulter has thrived at the Ryder Cup, the most pressure-packed event in golf. Not to mention his second at last year's British. I think he'll summon that experience to stay loose and confident today. Of course, I also bought a lot of Lehman and GM stock last year, so what do I know...? 2:36PM Tiger misses his birdie putt on no. 9. Opportunity lost. 2:34PM Chopra sticks a wedge to kick-in range on no. 9 and taps in for birdie. He's now 7-under. 2:32PM Tiger lays up on the par-5 9th, then knocks a wedge beneath the hole. He has 12 feet for birdie to take it to 6-under for the week, 5 shots back. 2:29PM "Who do you like?" a reader named Eric asks. "I just can't see Cejka holding on to win this thing." I agree. I pick Poulter. He has 7 wins and 7 seconds in Europe. Also, you have to want the responsibility of winning majors (or near majors). You have to feel at home in the spotlight. Ian Poulter has been playing well of late. And he feels utterly comfortable on the big stage. He's golf's answer to American Idol's Adam Lambert. As cocky as he is talented. Poulter wins. 2:23PM On the par-5 9th, Tiger pulls driver but makes a poor swing. His ball trickles into the first cut of rough. He's in good shape, but he'll have to either hook his second shot around trees or blast it over them to have any chance of reaching the green in 2. 2:19PM But Tiger leaves it below the hole. "A big mis-read," Johnny Miller informs us. 2:17PM Tiger has a makeable downhill birdie putt on no. 8 which, if he makes it, will put him in the top 10. 2:14PM Questions to consider for today’s telecast.Will NBC follow Tiger’s every shot, even if he shoots 97? (Yes.) Will Johnny Miller call someone a choker (maybe) and utter nonsense words like “Yowzers!”? (likely!) Will Morgan Freeman narrate a piece on Cejka's “Shawshank Redemption”-like river escape from the Iron Curtain at age 9 (I wish.) Questions, questions... 2:09PM Fifth major? No way. Nothing against the PGA Championship, but on this stunning course -- with the best 3-hole finishing stretch in golf -- the Players is the fourth major. 2:06PM Let’s update the action. The leaders – Alex Cejka and, in second place, Ian Poulter – tee off in about 25 minutes. Chopra continues his white-hot (matching his platinum locks) play, 2-under on his round to threaten the first page of the leaderboard. He's 5 behind Cejka (at 11-under). Meanwhile, Tiger just dropped a 47-footer on 6 to get to 5-under for the event, 6 shots back. I believe that was Tiger's first fist-pump all week. 2:01PM Welcome to Moving Day at the Players Championship! I'll be here with you for every nerve-jangling, palm-dampening shot at the Stadium Course today. Comments or questions? Don't be shy (you never are.) It should be a great day of golf. Let's get it on...

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