Excuse the players at THE PLAYERS while they light up the sky.
Saturday was a wildly entertaining display of golf pyrotechnics at the Stadium Course of TPC Sawgrass.
It was raining birdies in the third round and precious few of them were carded by Tiger Woods, golfs answer to the M-80. Nor was there much noise at the end of the fuse of Rory Sabbatini, the first round co-leader and self-appointed big game Tiger hunter.
But no matter. Former U.S. Amateur champion Jeff Quinney exploded with eight birdies en route to an 8-under 64 that was one shot off the course record of 63 set by Freddie Boom Boom Couples back in 1992 and matched by Greg Norman two years later.
Brit Luke Donald, looking to become the first European to win this event since Scot Sandy Lyle way back in 1987, raced home with a Saturday 65. Which would have been matched by Spains Sergio Garcia if El Nino had launched a dud into the water on 18 that resulted in a fizzling double bogey.
Aussie Peter Lonard flashed a double eagle two into the hole with a 5-iron on the second hole from 229 yards that temporarily tied him for the lead with Phil Mickelson and Carl Pettersen. Later, Sean OHair climbed into a four-way tie for the lead after going out in a sizzling 32 that moved him from 3 under to 7-under in the seeming blink of eye. And if you did blink, you probably missed Jose Maria Olazabal fashioning sparkling birdies on the ninth, 10th, 11th, 12th and 13th. Henrik Stenson, the leading candidate for Rookie-Of-The-Year, added a tidy 66.
OHair is the third round leader at 9-under thanks to even more fireworks'birdies on 16, 17 and 18. His playing competitor Sunday will be Mickelson, who stacked his approach to kick in range on the final hole to finish at 8-under. Lonard and Quinney will comprise the penultimate pairing.
Still learning, said the 24-year-old OHair afterward. Still feeling like a rookie out here.
I feel like were just getting started, Mickelson said of the work he and new instructor Butch Harmon have done in just three weeks.
Much of the low scoring was made possible by relatively tame scoring conditions. By mid-day the average 18-hole score for the third round was almost four and a half strokes lower than the corresponding number for Thursday when the wind howled all day long.
Hole locations were benign on the two tough par 3s, Nos. 8 and 17. That will almost certainly change for what promises to be an intriguing Sunday. Quinney and Lonard both trail OHair by two.
Woods shot 73 and is 14 back of OHair. It turns out he WAS beatable this week, mostly because of his difficulty with the speed of the greens that infected his putter. Sabbatini, the man who observed that Woods was beatable, was even more so. His third round 71 was respectable but rendered unimportant by his Friday 79.
Mickelson, at the moment, may not look unbeatable. But he looks awfully good. His first two events under Harmons tutelage produced top fives. Now he is poised to win an event in which he has played 13 times previously with just two top 10s to show for his efforts.
Prior to the weekend Mickelson, who shot 69 Saturday, had hit just 11 of 28 fairways. But he offset those strays by converting 34 of 34 putts from inside 10 feet. On Friday alone he collected 13 one putts.
He will have a huge edge in experience over OHair in the final round. But Adam Scott was just 23 when he won THE PLAYERS three years ago.
Sunday likely will produce more drama than Saturday. But its hard to imagine it will serve up more excitement.
The most amazing day, broadcaster Johnny Miller called it.
As observations go, it was spot on.
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