PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. (AP) – Jhonattan Vegas has been relatively quiet in his second season on the PGA Tour.
No victories. Not even a top-10 finish. As many cuts missed as made.
So seeing the 27-year-old Venezuelan on the leaderboard at The Players Championship after the third round was nearly as surprising as his win at the Bob Hope Classic last year.
Vegas shot a 4-under 68 on Saturday, moved to 6-under 210 and put himself in the mix heading into the final round. He trailed leader Kevin Na by six strokes.
“I'm in a great place,'' Vegas said. “I feel like I'm in a good position because I don't feel like the leaders are going to go too far ahead. So within range, which is good, which is kind of what you want going into Sunday.''
Vegas hasn't been in this position all year. Not really close, either.
He has missed 13 cuts since winning the Bob Hope in January 2011. He missed the cut in half of his 12 tournaments this year, and before this week, had broken 70 only five times in 37 rounds. His best finish was 27th at the season-opening Tournament of Champions in Kapalua, which only had 27 players in the field.
He's in position to better that Sunday.
“Just got to keep doing what I've been doing,'' he said. “Just go do a little bit of practice, just go to the hotel with a good feeling and just try to bring the same energy tomorrow.''
Vegas opened the third round birdie-eagle, exactly what he needed to gain some confidence on the always-challenging Stadium Course. He ended the day nearly as well, with birdies at Nos. 16 and 17.
It was a considerably better feeling than his first trip to The Players last year, when he shot 78-77 and missed the cut.
“Last year I tried to be a little too aggressive on the course, and the course kind of spanked me a little bit,'' he said. “This year we are trying to do things a little bit different with a 2-iron, trying to hit it more in play and give myself more chances. That's kind of what I've been doing so far.''
TIGER'S TALE: Tiger Woods shot even-par 72 in the third round, losing considerable ground to the leaders. But Woods was hardly discouraged with his play.
Coming off a 4-under 68 that was a putt or two away from being even better, Woods felt as if hit the ball as well Saturday as he has all year. He needed 33 putts, though, five more than he had in either of the first two rounds. He has made just two of 31 putts longer than 10 feet through three rounds.
“They are certainly not in the same category,'' he said of his latest rounds. “I played well today and didn't get anything out of that round. It was probably the most solid I've hit the golf ball all year actually. Even though I hit a couple off-line, but they were just hit dead-flush. I just got nothing out of the round.''
ENGLISH FADES: Harris English's first shot might have been his undoing.
English yanked his tee shot left on the par-4 first and struck a volunteer in the head. The volunteer, Denny Meredith of Jacksonville, fell to the ground and was later taken to a hospital for tests. Meredith had an open gash on the right side of his head when English arrived to apologize.
English gave Meredith an autographed glove and thanked him for volunteering. Playing partner Matt Kuchar also signed a glove and gave it to Meredith, who has volunteered at The Players each of the last 11 years.
The scary scene may have bothered English, who bogeyed the first hole and then hooked his next drive into a bush and ended up with a triple-bogey 8. He dropped from second to 26th in just holes and ended up shooting a 7-over 79.
GARCIA'S KNEE: Sergio Garcia birdied six of his final 10 holes Saturday, and then sought treatment for a sore left knee.
Garcia shot a 68 that left him at 4-under 212 for the tournament, eight strokes behind the leader. But he was more concerned with his knee than his chances of winning The Players again.
He said he tweaked his knee Saturday morning in his kitchen.
“I just put the knee down and it kind of missed, kind of failed me,'' he said. “It mostly does it when I'm walking down a hill. So it's just like a needle underneath the knee. I don't know what it is.''
MORE SHOE TALK: In case Tiger Woods' shoes didn't get enough attention Friday, there was more talk about his Nikes following the third round.
It became clear during the second round – Woods changed his right shoe on the sixth hole after he broke an eyelet – that he has returned to wearing metal spikes. He said he started wearing them last week at Quail Hollow.
Why the change?
“My knee is finally healthy enough to take the pounding,'' he said.
Woods has gone through four knee surgeries since his freshman year at Stanford. He tore knee ligaments while jogging in the summer of 2007, and finished the year winning five of six tournaments, including a major. He won the U.S. Open in 2008 for his 14th major on one good leg. And after injuring his right Achilles in December 2008, he won seven times the next season.
He missed three months last year after sustaining “minor injuries'' to his left knee and Achilles from an awkward stance in the pine straw at the Masters.