In their back-to-back pairings at TPC Sawgrass, fans congregated on the hillsides to first watch Woods and reigning PGA Championship winner Keegan Bradley tee off at 11:25 a.m., followed by Mickelson and veteran Bob Estes at 11:35. The crowd had big roars ready for the game's two most prominent players as they chased their second PLAYERS titles.
The result, though, was more groans and sighs. Mickelson is 4 under through three rounds after a 2-under 70 on Saturday while Woods stands at 2 under with a third-round 72.
"I played well today and didn't get anything out of that round," Woods said. "It was probably the most solid I've hit the golf ball all year, actually. Even though I hit a couple off line, but they were just dead flush."
Woods never charged, making two birdies and two bogeys a day after making six birdies in a second-round 68. His birdie on the par-3 13th got him back to even par for the day and he parred his way home. On Saturday, he was just 1 under on the par 5s, making a birdie on the 11th.
He used words like "misread" on a couple putts, "tough getting the ball close" for his iron play and that the "wind was dancing a little bit." Woods did reveal that he replaced his soft spikes with metal spikes last week at the Wells Fargo Championship in Charlotte, N.C., because "my knee is finally healthy enough to take the pounding."
"I figured if I shot 67, 68, something in that range, I would be right in the ballgame going into tomorrow," Woods said. "I thought the lead might get to double digits.
"There's so much danger out there. This golf course is set up today where you can go out there and shoot a 65, but also, then again, you can go shoot something in the 80s pretty easily."
Following his third-round 70 at the PLAYERS Championship, Phil Mickelson meets with the media and talks about how fair the course set-up for the third round was.
Mickelson had a scratchy start, making bogeys on the par-4 fourth and fifth holes before catching fire with birdies on Nos. 6, 9, 11 and 12 to get to 2 under for the day. He didn't take advantage of the remainder of the course, missing a 9-foot birdie try on the par-4 15th, failing to hit the par-5 16th in two and making par and missing a 6-footer for birdie on the par-3 17th.
"I felt like if I could get to 6 (under) starting the day, shoot something in the 60s, that I would be in good position for tomorrow," Mickelson said. "It's not that I'm out of it, per se, but I'm going to have go that much lower tomorrow, two shots lower than I was hoping to, which means I'll probably have to shoot something in the mid-60s to have a chance."
Woods pointed out that TPC Sawgrass isn't a horses-for-courses type of track, as Augusta National is for him and Mickelson, with four and three wins, respectively, at the Masters Tournament.
"I think if you look at it as a whole, everyone who has played here, they have never really been that consistent here," said Woods, the 2001 PLAYERS champion. "Everyone, going from the time Jerry Pate won (in 1982), no one has really contended here or been in contention 70-80 percent of the time. Like some golf courses you get certain guys playing well there no matter what."