However, he more than held his own, shooting a 2-under-par 70 to maintain a 2-shot lead entering the final round. Sunday, hell once again be playing in the final group on the Stadium Course at the TPC at Sawgrass. But he wont be playing with Paul Azinger. Hell be alongside Tiger Woods. And those bundles of nerves will be more like boulders.
Welcome to the jungle.
Ive never played with him, said Kelly in reference to Woods. It's kind of like playing in the middle of the freeway.
Woods fired a 6-under-par 66 to cut a six-shot overnight deficit to a more manageable two strokes. Tigers day began and ended with bogeys, but in between there were a handful of memorable moments.
Playing in the penultimate pairing will be Vijay Singh and Scott Hoch. Singh shot 2-under-par 70 to finish in a tie with Woods for second place at 9-under. Hoch bogeyed the final hole to shoot 71 and finish the day alone in fourth place at 8-under.
Playing with Kelly, Azinger shot 2-over-par 74 to fall into a tie for sixth place at 6-under-par.
Singh was six feet from earning a spot in the final group, but missed his birdie effort on the final hole. The Fijian spent the better part of his day jumping back and forth between 8- and 9-under, before a birdie at the par-5 16th moved him into double digits.
A three-putt bogey at the par-3 17th once again dropped Singh down to 9-under, where he finished after failing to take advantage of an impressive approach shot on 18.
Im due for a nice round here on Sunday, and I think tomorrow will be the one, said Singh, who lives just five miles from the course.
Though jittery, Kelly was able to settle himself by birdieing his first two holes. A third birdie at the par-5 6th took him to 12-under-par for the tournament; though he dropped that shot with a bogey at the par-3 8th.
Once again, Kelly kept his tee shots in play. Saying accuracy was his primary focus before teeing it up this week, Kelly missed just one fairway in the third round.
Kellys back nine was one of consistency. He recorded one birdie, seven pars and a lone bogey at the 17th. That bogey came courtesy of a three-putt.
Im hoping that my mental attitude is going to be extremely strong, Kelly said. Theres always more pressure on (Tiger). Hes expected to win. You know, he is The Man.
Nobody is really expecting me to do it. I mean, you are all saying underdog and this kind of thing. You know, Im in a great position. I still think I just go out and play my game, and Im playing well enough to where I can do it.
In terms of results, Woods got off to a great start Saturday. However, his ball striking was erratic. He didnt hit a fairway until the fifth hole, but managed to overcome a bogey at the 1st with three successive birdies on hole Nos. 2-4.
I hit the ball terrible starting out, Woods said. But somehow I was able to scrape it around and keep it under par with the putter.
Five straight pars left Woods at 5-under upon making the turn. At that point, he trailed Kelly by seven shots.
After another par at the 10th, Tiger smoked a 4-iron from 229 yards on the par-5 11th to within two feet of the hole. The tap-in eagle vaulted Woods to 7-under, which soon became 8-under after a second laser-like iron at the 12th led to another tap-in, this time for birdie.
Almost instantaneously, Woods was within three strokes of the lead.
A 20-foot birdie putt at the par-5 16th got Woods to 9-under. Then, it appeared as if Tiger made a mistake at the par-3 17th. Woods hit a 9-iron from 134 yards to the back of the green. He was quite fortunate the ball stayed on the island.
Putting from the fringe, Tiger navigated a 60-foot, double-breaking putt into the right side of the cup for an unimaginable birdie 2.
Ive had that putt where Ive missed it ' Ive missed it right almost every time, in practice rounds as well as tournaments, said Woods. I know that putt really swings back at the right towards the end. I changed my read a little bit based on past experience. Somehow it snuck in.
Woods pumped his fist emphatically and the masses roared. It was reminiscent of when Tiger holed a 12-foot birdie putt on the same hole to take the lead for the first time in his 1994 U.S. Amateur victory.
I really thought he made a hole-in-one on 17, said Kelly, who heard the crowd reaction while he was playing the 15th.
Perhaps a bit too pumped, Woods elected to hit a 3-iron instead of a 2-iron off the 18th tee. Thursday, he double bogeyed the hole when he hit his tee shot into the water guarding the left side of the fairway.
This time, he blew his shot into the gnarly right rough. He pitched out from there, but missed the green with his third shot. Woods then chipped to five feet and made the putt for bogey. Still, it was enough to earn a spot in the final pairing.
Its always advantageous to see what the leaders are doing, Woods said. If the guys are playing well ahead of you, at least you have time to react to it.
Playing in the final group on Sunday is rather routine for Woods. He did so just last week in his victory at the Bay Hill Invitational.
For Kelly, however, its a whole new experience. Hes led only one tournament entering the final round. That was the 1999 Greater Milwaukee Open. He shot 71 on Sunday and finished third.
I learned a lot from that Sunday, and Ive really been looking forward to getting back in this position and applying some of the things I learned, Kelly said.
The loss was a difficult one to take for Kelly, who was born in Madison, Wisc. He considers that event to be his fifth major. Most others happen to think The Players in next in line for such status.
Perhaps a win ' over Tiger Woods, nonetheless ' will change Kellys mind.
News, Notes and Numbers
*Jerry Kelly is trying to become the first player in the 28-year history of The Players Championship to make this event his first PGA Tour victory.
*Kellys career best finish came in a playoff loss to Loren Roberts in the 1996 Greater Milwaukee Open. That was Tiger Woods first event as a professional.
*Woods played with Phil Mickelson in the third round. Mickelson shot an even-par 72. He stands in a tie for 11th.
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