Stephen Ames tops leaderboard
Stephen Ames was embarrassed by Tiger Woods only four weeks ago. Now he heads perhaps the strongest field of the year.
A Trinidad-born Canadian citizen, Ames dealt with extremely difficult conditions to card a 2-under-par 70 in Saturday's windswept third round at the $8 million Players Championship.
On a day when the field averaged 74.6 strokes, he overcame an early double-bogey to move to 9-under 207 total, one shot better than Vijay Singh (70) and Sergio Garcia (70) heading into the final round at the Sawgrass TPC.
Mike Weir (68) and Henrik Stenson (70) were three shots behind, while second-round leader Jim Furyk was among a large group four shots off the pace after struggling to a 75.
Ames finished second here four years ago, but he claims to be in much better form this time.
"The whole package has been very good," Ames said. "I've always enjoyed playing in the wind and today was a good ball-striking day, a good course management day. I've been very comfortable with the way I've been setting up to and swinging at the ball.
"What's really good is that I'm standing over the ball and haven't got a swing thought in my mind. All I've got is a shape I want to hit it. I think that's when we play our best."
At the Match Play Championship in February, Woods scored a record 9 and 8 victory over a hapless Ames in the first round. However, Ames is a consistent veteran.
Ames claims his thrashing by Woods did not hurt his psyche.
"I dealt with it, left it at that. I got my (butt) pummeled. I lost," Ames said.
Singh hasn't been at his very best this year, but he never plays badly, and it was hardly surprising that he hung near the lead while several others plunged out of contention.
"I played really smart golf, if you may call it," said the former world No. 1. "I'm not playing extremely well (but) I'm not playing badly either. I'm making do with what I have in my game.
"You can lose a tournament on Saturday, so I just tried not to lose it and be right there. I like my position right now, like my chances tomorrow. I wasn't very happy at the beginning of the week but I managed to get something going and I'm putting well."
As much as Ames and Singh would like to win, Garcia perhaps needs it more, because a victory in the biggest tournament outside the majors would help to silence the critics who are starting to question whether he is really is destined for greatness.
Putting has been the Spaniard's weakness for a couple of years, and his woes were on display for all the world to see at the 13th, where he three-putted, missing his second putt from barely two feet.
Garcia also bogeyed the 14th but a good par save at the 15th steadied a very wobbly ship and he played the final four holes in 1-under. In fact, none of the leaders dropped a shot on the final four holes, which is largely why they are leading.
"I misread my first putt and just couldn't get focused on the second and hit a bad putt," Garcia said of the 13th. "And that probably cost me a bogey at the next, but thankfully I got up-and-down on 15 and that got me going again.
"This course right now is testing and that's the way it should be. It was playing dangerous, and even though I was playing well and wasn't in much trouble all day, you could see that a bad shot at the wrong time could cost you a lot."
It certainly cost several players a chance to win, although in Adam Scott's case it was a series of bad shots. He started the day only one shot from the lead but dropped 11 strokes in the first 10 holes on his way to a 10-over 82.
Woods didn't do a lot wrong, but a 73 left him seven shots back.