PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Tiger Woods is still in position to pick up his fourth victory of 2013 after an afternoon of drama that included the renewal of an old feud and a nearly two-hour rain delay, leaving the leaders unable to complete their third rounds at the Players Championship on Saturday.
Woods was even par through 14 holes and 10 under for the tournament, tied with playing partner Sergio Garcia and Henrik Stenson for second place. They are two strokes behind 25-year-old rookie David Lingmerth, who eagled the par-5 16th hole and birdied the island 17th hole before play was halted in near darkness.
When they resume the third round at 7:10 a.m. Sunday, Lingmerth will start on the watery par-4 18th hole, Stenson will be on the knee-knocking 17th, and Woods and Garcia will hit their second shots on the par-4 15th hole.
"Having those guys behind me, I know they're going to try to hunt me down," said Lingmerth, who lost a sudden-death playoff to Brian Gay at the Humana Challenge in January before going on to miss eight of his next 10 cuts coming into the Players. "I'm just going to try to keep doing my thing."
Jeff Maggert, 49, shot 66 and was at 9 under par along with Ryan Palmer (who is through 16 holes) and Casey Wittenberg (through 17). They are three off the lead, with David Lynn (68) and Hunter Mahan (71) another shot back.
Rory McIlroy took 30 putts on the way to a 1-over 73. He was 5 under.
"From tee to green I hit the ball probably as well as I have all week," McIlroy said. "I just didn't take advantage of any of the opportunities I gave myself on the greens. If I can hole a few more putts [Sunday] and hit the ball the same as what I have, hopefully there's a good score in there for me."
Lingmerth is a Swede who played for the University of Arkansas and lived in Fayetteville before moving to Jacksonville Beach in December. He lives "about 10 yards" from fellow Swede Jonas Blixt, who convinced Lingmerth to move to the hometown of the PGA Tour for the weather and the practice facilities. He has been almost entirely unfamiliar with every course so far in 2013, but not so TPC Sawgrass, which Lingmerth estimates he's played a dozen times.
A contentious week that began with Vijay Singh suing the PGA Tour turned more so with the pairing of Woods and Garcia, whose relationship has been frosty ever since Garcia tried unsuccessfully to stare down Woods at the 1999 PGA Championship.
The tension didn't take long to come to the surface with an incident on the par-5 second hole that seemed minor at the time, but which got ugly fast.
Woods hit his tee shot into the trees left of the fairway, and waded into the throng of fans to size up his options. He directed traffic, and when he pulled a fairway wood from his bag, the fans cheered. The problem was Garcia was over his ball, and while he had time to back off, he chose not to and hit a wild slice into the trees.
Garcia spun around and glowered at Woods and the rowdy fans, and then went on to bogey the hole. On his second shot, Woods hit a hard hook out of the pine straw and his ball bounded into a greenside bunker. He got up and down for birdie.
"Well obviously Tiger was on the left," Garcia told NBC's Steve Sands during the rain delay. "It was my shot to hit. He moved all the crowd he needed to move and I waited for that. I want to say he didn't see I was ready, but you do have a feel when the other guy is going to hit. Right as I was on top of the backswing, I think he must have pulled a 5-wood or 3-wood out of the rough and obviously everybody started screaming, so that didn't help very much. It was unfortunate. I might have hit it [right] if nothing happens, you never know. If I hit a good shot there and make birdie it gets my day started in a bit of a different way."
Asked about the incident as night fell, Woods said he learned that Garcia was upset during the rain delay, but not from Garcia himself. The two don't talk.
"Well, the marshals, they told me he already hit," Woods said. "So I pulled a club and was getting ready to play my shot, and then I hear his comments afterwards and not real surprising that he's complaining about something."
Woods's comments were relayed to Garcia, who said, "That's fine. At least I'm true to myself. I know what I'm doing and he can do whatever he wants."
They have four more holes to play together Sunday morning, at which point all players will be re-paired.
With the untested Lingmerth in the lead, Woods and Garcia each have a clear path to the $1.71 million winner's check, if they can just focus on the golf.