PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — In an era when every swing looks more and more the same, your 54-hole leader at the Players Championship sports a home-cooked move that looks all wrong until you see the results. And that's just with the putter.
Paul Goydos, a 43-year-old journeyman without a hat deal, racked up 11 one-putts while shooting a two-under-par 70 on Saturday. He's a shot ahead of 47-year-old Kenny Perry, who carded a quiet 72, and three clear of the youngster, 28-year-old Sergio Garcia, who played with the leader and slipped to a 73.
"It's a function of not hitting a lot of greens," said Goydos, who is averaging 26 putts per round this week. "I think I only hit nine yesterday and 10 today, so [the one-putt binge] is partly a function of missing the ball in the right place to where you have a reasonable chance to chip it close. And I have made my share of 10-to-15-footers."
Perry said: "Well, who would have predicted us to be in the last group? I mean seriously, you've got all the kids playing so well and all the superstars playing well."
While Perry still plays the Tour's conventional power game, Goydos does not. He hits it about 265 yards off the tee, which NBC's Johnny Miller pointed out is about average — for the LPGA.
Goydos has 31 one-putts in 54 holes, all the more impressive given his unconventional stroke — an aim-right, hit-left move. Miller couldn't decide if it was more evocative of Billy Casper or Gary Player.
Garcia, conversely, had his usual trouble on the greens. He three-putted the 17th green from 10 feet and bogeyed 18 as well after losing his tee shot right. Garcia took 34 putts Saturday, a day after taking 33.
"With everything that happened, I'm still there," Garcia said. "I still have a good chance, and I'm looking forward to tomorrow."
Much was made of the unconventional second-to-last pairing Saturday. While Garcia is a ball-striking machine (he hit 14 greens in regulation and is averaging 15 for the week), Goydos is a ham-and-egg guy whose game isn't always pretty. He was quick to make light of that fact, as well as the cold truth that he has two victories in 16 years on Tour, is 169th in the world ranking and has never held a 54-hole lead until now.
"I guess I was due," he said, bringing laughs from the assembled media. And, wait for it: "Sergio played well. He just didn't — nothing happened. I'm sure he was looking at me and just kind of wanting to throw up."
All kidding aside, Goydos almost lost his Tour card before finishing tied for second in the last tournament of 2006. He won the Sony Open to start 2007, then hit another dry spell, with his best finish since January 2007 a tie for 25th at last week's Wachovia Championship. How does he explain this week?
"I think it's a function of being patient," Goydos said. "I think that's the ultimate thing you have to do in this job."
Phil Mickelson's one-under 71 could have been better but for a drive into the pond that led to a double bogey on the par-4 14th hole. Although the world's second-ranked player is five strokes off the lead, only two players, Perry and Garcia, stand between him and the leader. Mickelson is tied at two under with 50-year-old Bernhard Langer, who shot 75 Saturday, and Jeff Quinney, who shot 70.
"I hope I can get off to a good start tomorrow with a couple of birdies," Mickelson said. "I'm not in a position where they're going to be thinking about me yet. You know, I've got to play well for the first 12, 13 holes probably before I can make enough birdies to have them take notice. But at least I'm somewhere in there."
Ernie Els, who like Mickelson began the day at one under, also could not avoid the big mistake, making two bogeys and a double on his first four holes. He rebounded with three birdies on the back nine to shoot a 73 and get back to even par, but he is still seven back.
The forecast for Sunday's final round is the most ominous of the week, with a chance of thunderstorms in the morning and showers and thunderstorms likely in the afternoon. Softer greens could make it easier for a player to come out of the pack with a low round; Sergio Garcia's 66 on Thursday remains the low round of the week.
Ray Floyd made the biggest comeback in Players history, making up six shots to climb from a tie for 12th to win in 1981.
With 20-mile-per-hour gusts in the forecast, Sawgrass was set up shorter and easier on day three. The par-5 16th hole was playing 25 yards shorter than its stated length on the scorecard.
Greg Kraft fired the low round of the day with a 68, getting to one under for the tournament. That put him in a seven-way tie for seventh place with Tom Lehman and Tim Petrovic, who both shot 69; Stuart Appleby (71), Boo Weekley (74), J.B. Holmes (71) and Briny Baird (73).
A few players shot themselves out of contention, most notably 22-year-old Anthony Kim, who began the day just two strokes off the lead. Tiger Woods has won in consecutive starts 22 times in his career, and Kim, who won the Wachovia last week, looked like he might go back-to-back after shooting 70 in the first two rounds.
But after his first PGA Tour victory and all the media attention of the past week, Kim seemed to hit a wall. He bogeyed his first two holes, fought back briefly and then watched his hopes drown completely with a water ball and a triple-bogey 6 on the 17th hole, and another water ball and a double-bogey 6 on the 18th. He shot 43 on the back nine, 79 for the day, and was tied for 34th place at three over.
"I hit good shots," Kim said. "I was hitting fairways. The only shot I didn't focus on was the two-footer on No. 2 that I thought I could kick in, and obviously I couldn't."
Stephen Ames got to two under with a birdie on 17 and then double-bogeyed 18 to fall into a big group at even par. Weekley stumbled with a front-nine 40. Fred Couples shot 77.
"The wind, I think, is the story of the week so far," said Baird.
It can all go bad in a hurry here, which may be why the leader was reserved when he was asked how he'll approach Sunday. He says he's playing the best golf of his life, but he wouldn't tempt fate with a prediction.
"This is why I've been playing and practicing for the last, who knows how many years, 30 years," Goydos said. "It's a good opportunity, great field, great golf course. I'm hoping the weather holds off. I think Sunday here — it's going to be a great experience irrespective of the outcome. This is why we play."