Na takes a 1-shot lead at Players Championship
By DOUG FERGUSON
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Florida (AP) Kevin Na birdied the 18th hole to complete one of only three rounds without a bogey at The Players Championship on Saturday, giving him one-shot lead over Matt Kuchar as they chase the richest prize on the PGA Tour - a five-year exemption and a spot in all the majors.
For all his practice swings and waggles, even purposely missing the ball so he could start over, Na pieced together a brilliant 4-under 68 for a three-round total of 12-under 204. He finished with two birdies on the last three holes to edge ahead of Kuchar (69), who hit into the water at the island-green 17th.
"I know how to play under pressure," Na said. "I've won before. I've been in situations like this. I've got to take everything I've learned and do my best."
Rickie Fowler, coming off his first PGA Tour win last week at Quail Hollow, was dynamic as ever as he shot up the leaderboard. Fowler didn't make a bogey until the last hole but still had the best score of the third round with a 66 and was two shots behind.
He is trying to become the first player since David Duval in 1997 to win his first two PGA Tour titles in consecutive weeks.
Texas Open champion Ben Curtis also played bogey-free. He just didn't have as many birdies, missing from inside 10 feet on his last two holes for a 70. He was five shots behind, along with former Masters champion Zach Johnson (73).
Tiger Woods never came close to getting into contention, though he gave himself plenty of chances. The card shows two birdies, two bogeys and a 72 that left him 10 shots out of the lead going into the final round. It was hard for him to digest.
"I played well today and didn't get anything out of that round," Woods said. "It was probably the most solid I've hit the golf ball all year, actually. Even though I hit a couple off line, they were just hit dead flush. I just got nothing out of the round."
Kuchar went eight consecutive holes without a par - six birdies and two bogeys - to seize control on a windy day at Sawgrass. But he slightly missed on his tee shot at the par-3 17th and never came close to land. He did well to hit his third shot from the drop area to 5 feet to escape with bogey.
"It was exciting," Kuchar said. "A lot of birdies and a lot more bogeys than I normally make. But I knew today was going to be a tricky day. I knew there were going to be a lot of bogeys. I knew there were dangers around every corner."
Na is considered among the slowest players in golf, and he was given a bad time on the 16th hole for taking too long to hit his shot. One more bad time and he would have become the first PGA Tour player in 20 years to be given a one-shot penalty.
He was informed of his bad time, and was told his appeal was denied after hitting onto the 17th green. Then, Na drilled his tee shot after only three waggles on the 18th hole, back off only once and then hit his approach to 15 feet to set up his last birdie.
Na said he is changing his swing and still struggles with balance, making it hard for him to get comfortable over the ball. He knows the world is watching, and he realizes it makes for painful viewing from living rooms and behind the ropes.
"I know it's frustrating," he said. "It's frustrating for me. I want to pull the trigger. ... It's getting better little by little. Hopefully, it will go away by the end of the year."
Fowler still sees himself as an underdog, even though he broke through last week at Quail Hollow to win in a playoff that included Rory McIlroy. The last player to win consecutive weeks on tour was Woods in 2009. Woods, Tom Kite in 1989 and Raymond Floyd in 1981 are the only players to make that second straight win The Players Championship.
"I feel like I'm in kind of an underdog position - maybe overlooked at the start of the week, won last week, maybe a little tired," Fowler said. "I'm ready to go. Like I said last week, it's all about giving yourself chances out here, and I gave myself a chance last week on Sunday and took advantage of it. Go out tomorrow, have some fun, give it our best shot and see where that puts us."
Phil Mickelson, trying to cap off a week that began with his induction into the World Golf Hall of Fame, had a 70 that have him an outside shot at 4-under 212.
Updated May 12, 2012
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