PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Kevin Na trudged up the 18th fairway, stopped a few yards short of the green and started searching for his ball.
It was buried deep in the rough.
He probably wished he could have left his entire round there.
Na had the wildest round during a strange Saturday at The Players Championship. The 25-year-old Na twice pulled within a stroke of leader Alex Cejka, but followed both of them with near-meltdowns on the unforgiving Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass.
He shot a 2-over 74, was at 5 under heading into the final round and six strokes behind Cejka. It could have been worse, too.
“This golf course can do that to you,” said Na, who turned pro at 17 and is still looking for his first PGA Tour victory. “Every hole is birdieable, but definitely you can make an X on it.”
Na has proof. He made consecutive birdies on Nos. 7 and 8 to get to 9 under, then badly misread a long putt on No. 9 that seemed to start the free fall. He pulled his tee shot on No. 10 into the sand, then hit his approach 70 feet past the pin and three-putted for bogey.
He yanked his second shot into a tree on the par-5 No. 11 and dropped another shot. Things got even messier at the par-3 13th.
His dropped the club during his followthrough, then covered his mouth as his tee shot landed in the water left. His third shot landed over the green, leading to a triple bogey.
Na managed to regroup and get back near the top of the leaderboard with a 20-foot birdie putt at No. 15 and an eagle at the par-5 16th. But his day ended in forgettable fashion – with consecutive bogeys that left him in a three-way tie for eighth heading into the final round.
“It was wild,” Na said. “Some of the holes you’ve just got to take your medicine center of the green. I tried that. It was just a little off. I wasn’t down the middle of the green, and that’s what you need to do out here. I’m going to go work on it on the range and figure it out a little bit.”
He might first want to try to forget the last two holes.
Na’s tee shot at the famed island green, No. 17, might have been the most baffling. After discussing club selection with his caddie, he watched in disbelief as his ball sailed by the pin and rolled precariously close to the edge of the water.
Using a hybrid club, he watched his slippery putt roll past 10 feet past the hole. He missed the par putt, but walked off the green feeling a little lucky he didn’t make double bogey.
He hoped to get back on track at No. 18, but landed just short of a tree in the right rough. His knocked his approach shot into the tree and it ricocheted into the fairway. He came up short from there and couldn’t even find his ball as he walked toward the green.
Fans and volunteer marshals had to help him out.
“This course, it’s crazy,” he said. “I love the crowd here. I love the way the finishing holes are. It’s just beautiful finishing holes. I think it’s just a great test of golf. You’ve got the greatest players in the world having trouble shooting par on this golf course. It means something. There’s a reason why we’re shooting over par.”
ANOTHER CUT: For the first time in the tournament’s 36-year history, The Players Championship had a second cut. Twelve more players were cut after the third round Saturday, all of them sent home because of a tour rule that calls for another cut if more than 78 players make it to the weekend.
Robert Karlsson, Hunter Mahan, Stewart Cink and Fred Funk were among the dozen players done a day earlier than they had hoped.
ISLAND PARADISE?: The 17th hole at TPC Sawgrass, the famed island green that has given players nightmares over the years, has proven to be a much more pleasant place to visit this year.
The lagoon hole, the one with swirling winds and daunting galleries, is playing under par for the first time since 1997. The hole’s scoring average is 2.940 through three rounds, with only 24 balls hit into the murky waters. Only four balls landed in the water Saturday, the fewest in any round since only four also got wet in the third round in 2004.
DIVOTS: NBC commentator Peter Jacobsen took a playful jab at Tiger Woods, and renowned swing coach Hank Haney, during the third-round broadcast. Jacobsen said he thought Woods would rub off on former NBA star Charles Barkley, who is starring in a reality TV show as Haney’s pupil. But Jacobsen said it looked like Barkley was rubbing off on Woods. … Only 18 players shot under par in the third round. Woody Austin and Kenny Perry led the way with 68s. … Alex Cejka’s five-stroke lead is the largest in tournament history heading into the final round.