The Players a Pickem

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PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- Open a door and youre sure to find something you like. A 40something fan? Looking for something familiar or something new? Past champion your choice? Craving international flavor?
 
Just open a door; behind one is the 2003 Players Champion.
 
There are several doors from which to choose, because there are several players in contention with one round remaining in The Players Championship.
 
Padraig Harrington is tied for the 54-hole lead with Jay Haas at 11-under-par 205. The Irishman shot 2-under 70 Saturday, while the 49-year-old American had a 67.
 
'I was hoping I would shoot a low one and get away from the field and take a lot of players out of contention, but that didn't happen. Second best thing, I'm still leading,' said Harrington, who is trying to join Sandy Lyle (1987) as the only European-born winners of this event.
 
Three past winners are tied for third. Defending champion Craig Perks (70), 1984 and 96 winner Fred Couples (69), and 92 champ Davis Love III (70) are all at 9-under.
 
Love and Couples will play together in the penultimate group. The good friends battled one another for several titles in the '80s and '90s, and won four consecutive World Cups as a team (1992-95).
 
'It will be a fun pairing. It'll be like old times, like 1992 all over again,' said Love.
 
Love and Couples had their share of highs and lows in round three, but nothing compared to that of Perks.
 
The Kiwi finished birdie-double bogey-birdie-eagle-birdie-bogey. He played the final three holes eerily reminiscent to the way he did when he won.
 
First, he chipped in for eagle at the par-5 16th ' just as he did in the final round a year ago. He then birdied from over 20 feet at the par-3 17th ' just as he did a year ago.
 
He had a chance to complete the similar cycle at the par-4 18th. After pulling a 3-wood into the water off the tee, he had 40 feet remaining for par. Last year, he chipped in to save par at the last and claim his first and thus far only PGA Tour victory. This time, however, he missed the putt and settled for a satisfying bogey.
 
'I have a bit of a flair for the dramatic,' Perks said. 'Obviously, there's some magic out there for me on 16, 17 and 18.'
 
In all, nine players are within four shots of the lead, and that doesnt even include Tiger Woods.
 
Woods sported a Cheshire-sized grin on his face after completing a round that could have been a little bit lower ' or a whole lot higher.
 
Probably turned a 71 into a nice little 68, said the 2001 champion. And that was a conservative estimate.
 
Woods made eight par putts ' totaling 35 feet, and seven birdies ' adding up to 62 feet. Hes five back heading to Sunday, with the expected weather wet, windy and cold.
 
With the conditions tomorrow, if you go out and play a good solid round of golf, you are going to move up and you are going to challenge for the tournament, said Woods, who won last week's Bay Hill Invitational by 11 shots under a constant downpour in the final round.
 
The second round had to be completed Saturday morning because of two days worth of suspensions. Harrington entered an ideal round three with a two-shot lead.
 
He held that advantage until the par-4 seventh, where he skulled a bunker shot and made double bogey.
 
That created a congealed leaderboard that never really settled.
 
Harrington and Haas spent most of the day battling for the top spot, with several others keeping a close chase.
 
Haas came home in 4-under 32, despite not making birdie at the last.
 
The nine-time PGA Tour winner, who almost won this year's Bob Hope, drove his ball right of right off the tee at the par-4 18th. It could have finished among the trees, but instead hit a spectator in the backside, kicked off the cart path, and came to rest in a perfect lie in the rough.
 
From there, he caught another break when his approach shot rolled through the thick grass short of the green and stopped 15 feet from the hole, from where he two-putted.
 
'Every year for the last 10 years one of my goals is to win a tournament,' said Haas, who is winless since 1993. 'Where would this rank? I guess it would be my biggest win.'
 
Harrington, who led the European Tour in scrambling last year, kept his composure following his blunder at 7. He birdied the ninth, 11th and 12th holes before parring out.
 
The six-time European Tour winner has had success in the U.S. before. He tied for fifth in last year's Masters, and tied for eighth in the U.S. Open, when he played in the final group in the third round. He also won the unofficial Target World Challenge over Woods.
 
'Does it give me confidence? Yes, it's always good to be there before,' he said. 'I tend to build and learn from experiences. I seem to be doing that.'
 
Woods experienced a little L.A. dj vu Saturday. He entered the third round of the Nissan Open trailing by six strokes and then promptly snap-hooked his first shot of the day out of bounds en route to a double bogey.
 
Fast-forward five weeks and Woods, trailing by seven to start the day, again hit his opening shot left. This time he salvaged bogey, and set the tone for the day.
 
Unlike the Nissan, where he eventually shot himself out of contention with a third-round 73, he quickly recovered, birdieing his next two holes.
 
After a routine two-putt birdie at the par-5 16th ' thats right, he actually started a weekend round on the back nine ' Woods made a 17-footer for par at 18.
 
He picked up two strokes with birdies on Nos. 2 and 3, only to give both back with bogeys at 5 and 7. He would have dropped another shot at 6, but after driving his ball into the right trees, he used a sweet little wedge to split the lot of them, placing his approach in the back greenside bunker. He got up and down for a par ' remarkable for many, but standard on the day for Woods.
 
Even that, though, wasnt nearly as impressive as what he did on his final two holes.
 
After making an 18-foot birdie at the par-3 eighth, Tiger buried his second shot on the par-5 ninth in the hay well right of the green. Barely able to see the ball, he hacked out 24 feet from the hole.
 
Of course, he made the birdie putt and offered an emphatic fist pump.
 
Two birdies on the last two holes were huge, he said. I wanted to get back into it and not put myself too far behind the leaders.
 
Related Links
  • Full-field scores from The Players Championship
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