PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Heath Slocum got lower than anyone at The Players Championship on Saturday. He just didn’t stay there long.
Minutes after getting to 15 under in the third round, Slocum gave back several strokes and tumbled down the leaderboard. When it was over, Slocum tried to stay positive, pointing out that he’s still in contention for his fourth PGA Tour victory.
“I didn’t end the round like I wanted to, but I feel like I’m at least still in it,” he said.
Slocum shot even par in the third round and remained at 11-under 205, three strokes behind leader Lee Westwood and in a four-way tie for sixth.
Slocum birdied Nos. 9, 11 and 12 – he stuck an approach shot to 3 feet to start the run, then made a 14-foot putt and a 10-footer – and saved par on No. 10 with a 15-footer.
He was leading the way after that four-hole stretch, but then his round unraveled. He had poor tee shots at Nos. 13 and 15, leading to a pair of bogeys, then yanked his tee shot into the water at the famed par-3 17th and wound up with a double.
He regrouped by hitting one of his better drives of the day at the finishing hole. He followed that with an approach shot to 10 feet, but just missed his birdie putt.
“I feel like I got it out of my head, and it’s just time to move forward,” he said. “I’ll go out tomorrow with the same kind of attitude I had today. … I would like to have had a few more shots with me, but that’s what I have so I’ll just go out tomorrow and make some birdies.”
TRASH-TALKING TIGER: Seconds after getting an autograph from Phil Mickelson, a young boy decided to talk a little trash to Tiger Woods.
As Woods walked by following his round, the kid yelled, “Tiger, say so long to No. 1. Kiss it goodbye.”
The kid wasn’t subdued by a Taser or removed from TPC Sawgrass. Woods, meanwhile, showed no reaction. He was more concerned with getting back on track after another mediocre round.
“I hit more good shots today than I have all week,” said Woods, who shot a 1-under 71 that left him at 4-under 212. “So you don’t turn this thing around overnight and then just go out there and play great golf. This is a process, especially since I haven’t played at all. I just need more rounds. Luckily I’ve got two rounds on the weekend.”
Mickelson has a chance to go to No. 1 in the world for the first time in his career, provided he wins and Woods finishes out of the top five.
Mickelson shot a 6-under 66, moved to 9-under 207 and heads into the final round five strokes behind leader Lee Westwood.
“I felt like things started to click a little bit today, and I think I’ve got one more low round in me,” Mickelson said. “I just hope that it will be enough, that I’ll be within striking distance.”
LONG TOSS: Kevin Stadler made a big splash at the par-4 18th, giving the raucous crowd surrounding the tee box something to cheer about.
Stadler pulled his tee shot left into the water, did the same thing with his next shot and then tossed his 3-wood so far into the murky lagoon that it wasn’t even retrievable.
“We went nuts,” said onlooker Jason Thomas of Jacksonville. “It was awesome.”
Stadler quickly dropped again and pushed his third shot right. He landed short of the green from there, chipped up and two-putted for a quintuple-bogey 9 that capped a 6-over 78. The frustrating finish left him at 1-over 217 heading into the final round – and needing a new 3-wood.
It gave everyone else around 18 something to remember.
“The club went farther than his ball did,” said J.P. Penn of Jacksonville. “His club throw, he played the wind good, had a little draw to it. I think he got at least seven good rotations on the club from what I saw.”
FUNK’S FAREWELL? That five-year tournament exemption Fred Funk earned for winning The Players Championship in 2005 expires after this event, meaning the 53-year-old fan favorite who lives a short drive from the Stadium Course could be playing his final competitive round here Sunday.
“It meant a lot to me to make the cut,” Funk said Saturday after posting a 6-under 66 left him at 8-under 208. “I was grinding like crazy (Friday) to try to make it to the weekend. I just didn’t want to miss it. … Now I’m part of the history of The Players and it’s home and it’s my favorite tournament that we play on tour. I love this place.”
An aching right knee – he had surgery, several drainings and a staph infection – has made it painful to walk four rounds in four days. He still has a couple of options to return to The Players down the road, but hasn’t decided whether he when or if he will use them.
“I’ve played the last 3 1/2 years with a lot of knee pain,” Funk said. “It’s just a part of life right now with me. … It’s getting better all the time, but it’s still got a ways to go. But it’s just become a part of my everyday deal.”
DIVOTS: Ben Crane (69), Zach Johnson (67), and Jimmy Walker (68) posted the only bogey-free rounds Saturday. … Andres Romero of Argentina has birdied the famed island green in all three rounds. He did it by making nearly 40 feet of putts. He drained a 28-footer Saturday. … Tim Clark had the shot of the day, holing out from 118 yards away and making eagle on the par-4 sixth.