PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – It’s only apropos that a week that began under a contentious cloud will end that way.
A parade of thunderstorms cut short Saturday’s third round at The Players Championship, but it was an increasingly blustery relationship between Tiger Woods and Sergio Garcia that will continue to dominate the conversation heading into Sunday’s Mother’s Day Marathon.
When play resumes early Sunday, Woods and Garcia will have four holes to play in Round 3, which may be four too many for both players after the duo’s already chilly relationship took an even cooler turn.
Lost in the contentiousness of Saturday – tension born from what Garcia suggested was an ill-timed club selection by Woods on the second hole – was a crowded leaderboard that featured Henrik Stenson (10 under), Garcia (10 under), Woods (10 under) and Hunter Mahan (8 under).
All total, 16 players were within five shots of the lead when play was halted by darkness. But – with respect to little-known rookie frontrunner David Lingmerth – it will be Woods and Garcia that will dominate the conversation on Sunday following an incident that only expanded the rift between the two.
Before Saturday’s storms arrived, a fast-moving system that delayed play for about two hours, Garcia was distracted while hitting his second shot into the par-5 second hole when Woods, who had missed his drive in the trees, pulled a club and caused the crowd to react.
“I think he must have pulled a 5-wood or 3-wood out and obviously everybody started screaming, so that didn’t help very much. It was unfortunate,” Garcia told Golf Channel’s Steve Sands. “I try to respect everyone as much as possible out there. I try to be careful what I do to make sure it doesn’t bother the other players.”
As darkness descended on TPC Sawgrass, Woods had a vastly different, and even more pointed, take on the incident.
“He doesn’t know all the facts,” said Woods, who is tied with Garcia at 10 under par and two strokes behind Lingmerth. “The marshal said he’d already hit and I pulled the club . . . I heard his comments afterwards. It’s not surprising he’s complaining about something.”
When told of Woods’ comments, Garcia replied: “That’s fine, at least I’m true to myself. I know what I’m doing. He can do what he wants.”
Where’s Vijay Singh when you need him?
The Fijian began the week at TPC Snipe & Squabble by filing a lawsuit against the Tour as a result of his run in with the circuit’s anti-doping policy. Woods and Garcia seem inclined to end it with a war of words.
But at least we have the golf, which will resume at 7:10 a.m. (ET) with Woods and Garcia facing approach shots at the 15th hole and what promises to be an eventful Mother’s Day if Saturday’s happenings were any indication.
Garcia began the day with a one-stroke lead, but less than 20 minutes into the “Bout at Ponte Vedra Beach” Woods pulled clear of Garcia, the byproduct of the surreal birdie-bogey exchange at the second hole.
It was the start of a give-and-take day with TPC Sawgrass doing most of the taking.
“It's a tough golf course, and if you do the right things you get the reward, and otherwise you've got to have a short game, and I just like this golf course,” said Stenson, the 2009 Players champion who held a share of the lead until he bogeyed the 15th hole.
At least for Lingmerth the Woods-Garcia row will likely take much of the attention off of him, although it will likely do little for the pressure.
The rookie eagled the 16th hole and birdied the 17th to move to 12 under par. It’s a dramatic change of fortune for the rookie who lost a playoff at the Humana Challenge but has missed five consecutive cuts coming into The Players.
“I don't know if I could predict that this was going to happen, but my game was feeling a lot better than missing five cuts in a row; I can promise you that,” Lingmerth said. “It was kind of frustrating because I couldn't get anything out of my game really. But now this week I've been able to score, which obviously helped.”
Joining Woods, Garcia and Stenson in pursuit of the Lingmerth is senior-in-waiting Jeff Maggert (9 under).
Yet there was the 49-year-old just three strokes back after a round-of-the-day 66 playing in his 586 Tour event. By comparison, Lingmerth is making his 13th career start in the Big Leagues.
When asked his expectations for this week Maggert embraced the elephant in the room, “To make the cut,” he said.
Woods had much loftier expectations, although given his record around the Pete Dye design in recent years, making the cut was a good start. He has just one professional victory on the Stadium Course and a single top-10 finish in the last decade, which explained his upbeat appraisal of his game following the suspension of play.
“I’m happy with the way I played. We had a long day and the conditions changed pretty dramatically. It was a day of patience,” he said.
Sunday promises to be more of the same, both competitively and from a compatibility standpoint when he sets out with Garcia just past sunrise. Asked if he and the Spaniard talked about the episode, Woods seemed to sum up the atmosphere with his response.
“We didn’t do a lot of talking,” Woods said.
Seems like a good rule to follow on Mother’s Day, if you don’t have anything nice to say . . .