ROUND 3 RECAP: Na leads by one
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- Kevin Na drained a 16-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole to take sole possession of the lead after three rounds of THE PLAYERS Championship.
Na, who ranks first this week in all three putting categories, is 12 under after his bogey-free 68 and owns a one-stroke lead over Matt Kuchar. Kuchar, who went eight holes without a par midway through his round, hit his tee shot in the water on the 17th on the way to a 69.
Rickie Fowler, who won his first PGA TOUR event on Sunday at the Wells Fargo Championship, is alone in third at 9 under after shooting the day's low round of 66.
Jhonattan Vegas, Brian Davis, Jonathan Byrd and Martin Laird are five strokes off the pace at 6 under.
Fowler's round was bogey-free until the 18th hole where he made a 5 for the third straight day. Even so, he's got a golden opportunity to become the first player since Tiger Woods in 2001 -- and only the fourth in history -- to win the week before and then go on to victory at THE PLAYERS Championship.
Meanwhile, Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods were unable to gain much ground on the windswept afternoon.
Mickelson made consecutive bogeys at Nos. 4 and 5 before fighting back with four birdies in his next seven holes to shoot 70. He's 4 under through 54 holes and seven strokes in arrears.
Woods made the turn in 37 and bogeyed the 10th to go 2 over for the day. But birdies on No. 11 -- his only one on a par 5 in the third round -- and the 13th brought him home with a 72. He's nine strokes behind at 2 under.
THIRD-ROUND UPDATES (all times ET)
6:46 p.m. – Kevin Na just grabbed the 54-hole lead after rolling in a 16-foot birdie putt at the 18th hole. That moves him to 12 under, one stroke ahead of Matt Kuchar, who will be his playing partner in the final group for Sunday’s final round. When asked about the pressure for Sunday, Kuchar told NBC Sports, “I imagine it’s going to be really tough tomorrow.”
6:35 p.m. – Matt Kuchar has completed his third round, making par at the final hole for a 3-under 69. That leaves him at 11 under. He’ll be playing in the final group on Sunday.
6:32 p.m. – Kevin Na safely navigated the 17th with a par and remains at 11 under.
6:23 p.m. – About the earlier note that Charlie Wi was quietly in contention …. well, no longer. Wi double bogeyed the 18th and finished with a 73; he’s now six strokes off the lead.
6:21 p.m. – Kevin Na has tied Matt Kuchar for the lead by making a 10-foot birdie putt at the par-5 16th. Both players are at 11 under.
6:20 p.m. – After a nice shot from the drop zone, Matt Kuchar salvaged a bogey at the 17th by rolling in a 4-foot putt. He’s now at 11 under.
6:14 p.m. – Tournament leader Matt Kuchar just became the fourth player of the day to find the water at the 17th. His tee shot splashed down short of the island green.
6:10 p.m. – Tough finish for Adam Scott, who likely took himself out of any shot for a second PLAYERS win with a double bogey at the 18th. His 2-over 74 leaves him at 4 under for the tournament.
6 p.m. – Charlie Wi’s quietly staying in contention. His birdie at the par-5 16th moves him to 7 under and into a tie for fourth.
5:53 p.m. -- Matt Kuchar has gotten back to 12 under with a 13-footer for birdie at the15th hole. He's now made six birdies and two bogeys in his last eight holes.
5:50 p.m. -- Rickie Fowler on his 66, which is the day's low, so far: "Had some fun out there today. I mean, other than bogeyed the last, I'd have to say it was a fairly perfect round."
5:43 p.m. -- Matt Kuchar hasn't made a par in his last seven holes. His most recent was a bogey at the 14th which dropped him back to 11 under and one stroke ahead of Kevin Na.
5:30 p.m. -- Not so fast, Kevin Na says. He just made his second birdie of the day, draining a 33-footer, to grab sole possession of second at 10 under, two behind Matt Kuchar.
5:28 p.m. -- Matt Kuchar extended his lead to three shots with an 8-footer for birdie at the 13th hole. It was his second straight birdie and his fifth in his last six holes.
5:24 p.m. -- Count Ian Poulter among those impressed by his playing partner's 66 on Saturday. Poulter, who enters the final round 4 under, tweeted: "Great round of golf by @RickieFowlerPGA today made my 1 under look rubbish. Still in with a chance need to hole putts tomorrow. Simple."
5:13 p.m. -- A bounce-back birdie from 10 feet at the 12th hole has restored Matt Kuchar's two-stroke advantage.
5:05 p.m. -- Matt Kuchar just gave a stroke back with a three-putt bogey on the para-5 11th. He's now 10 under and one ahead of Rickie Fowler, who is done, and Kevin Na, playing in the final group.
4:45 p.m. – Matt Kuchar has extended his lead after his third consecutive birdie, this one at the par-4 10th when he rolled in a putt just inside 18 feet. Kuchar is now at 11 under, two shots ahead of Rickie Fowler and Kevin Na, as he heads to the par-5 11th.
4:34 p.m. -- Rickie Fowler's chance for an unblemished round ended when he missed a 4-footer for par at the 18th hole -- which was his third straight bogey on the difficult par 4 this week. Still, his round of 66 moved last week's champion to 9 under and one shot off the lead.
4:31 p.m. -- Matt Kuchar two-putted for birdie from 21 feet at the ninth hole to join Rickie Fowler in the lead at 10 under.
4:30 p.m. -- Ben Curtis broke a six-year victory drought at the Valero Texas Open three weeks ago. He's in contention for another this week at TPC Sawgrass -- and just made an 8-footer for birdie at the 12th hole to move to 7 under and three behind the lead.
4:24 p.m. -- A 22-footer for birdie at the par-3 eight hole has lifted Matt Kuchar to 9 under for the tournament and one shot off the lead now held by Rickie Fowler.
4:19 p.m. -- Entering this week, only one of Jhonattan Vegas' last 24 rounds has been in the 60s. But he's broken 70 twice in three rounds on the Stadium Course, including Saturday's 68 that moved him to 6 under for the tournament.
4:11 p.m. -- Blake Adams has fallen back to even par for the day with a double-bogey at the par-5 11th where he drove into the trees to the right of the fairway, had to take a drop and barely advanced the ball back into daylight. He's 5 under for thne tournament now.
4:07 p.m. -- A 4-footer for birdie at the 16th hole, where he hit his second shot into the pot bunker behind the green, has given Rickie Fowler sole possession of the lead at 10 under.
4:01 p.m. -- Phil Mickelson just finished with a 70 that he'll likely feel could have been better. He missed a 6-foot birdie putt at the 17th hole and a 9-footer at No. 15. So Lefty will start the final round at 4 under, which is now five off the lead.
3:54 p.m. -- Johnson Wagner has now birdied the 17th hole three straight days. Saturday's putt came from 6 feet while the first two came from 15 and 11 feet. Kevin Na and Rickie Fowler are the only other players with a chance to do the same this week.
3:50 p.m. -- The 17-foot putt flirted with the hole but refused to fall so Tiger Woods has finished with a round of 72. He's 2 under for the tournament and seven off the lead right now.
3:44 p.m. -- Blake Adams made a 7-footer for birdie at the 10th hole to pull within two shots of the leader. Adams is 2 under for the day and 7 under for the tournament.
3:18 p.m. -- Kevin Na has joined the lead group at 9 under with an 11-foot birdie putt at the third hole. Minutes later, though, Matt Kuchar fell out of that logjam when he found the vast bunker to the right at the fouth hole, hit his second over the green and chipped back by the pin on the way to a bogey.
3:07 p.m. -- Matt Kuchar has joined Rickie Fowler in the lead at 9 under with a 4-foot birdie putt at the second hole, a 539-yard par 5.
2:50 p.m. -- Rickie Fowler missed the cut in his first two appearances at THE PLAYERS. Now he's got sole possession of the lead after his third straight birdie -- and sixth overall -- with a two-putt from 58 feet at No. 11. He's 9 under and one ahead now.
2:37 p.m. --Rickie Fowler drained a 33-footer for birdie at the 10th hole, his fifth of the day against not bogeys, and he's tied for the lead at 8 under with Matt Kuchar, Zach Johnson and Kevin Na. Byrd has birdied two of his first three holes.
2:34 p.m. -- Tiger Woods has gotten back to even par for the day with a 15-foot birdie at the 13th hole. He's 2 under for the tournament.
2:33 p.m. -- A 7-foot birdie putt at the par-4 12th, Mickelson's second straight and third in four holes, has moved the newly-made World Golf Hall of Famer to 4 under for the tournament.
2:27 p.m. -- Tiger Woods birdied his first par 5 of the day, getting up and down behind the 11th green, to get back to 1 over for the day and 1 under for the tournament.
2:19 p.m. – Phil Mickelson birdied the par-5 11th; it’s his third birdie in his last six holes. He’s now 3 under for the tournament.
2:16 p.m. – Rickie Fowler almost holed his eagle putt at the par-5 ninth; instead he settled for a tap-in birdie that moves him to 7 under and into a tie for fourth. Fowler is 4 under on the day.
1:59 p.m. -- Canadians David Hearn and Graham DeLaet found the Stadium Course particularly challenging on Saturday with rounds of 77 andf 76, respectively. At least they kept their sense of humor. Hearn tweeted "Ouch" while DeLaet's reaction was "Felt like I went 12 rounds with Tyson today. #battered #bruised"
1:46 p.m. -- A 6-footer for birdie at the ninth hole has sent Phil Mickelson to the back nine at even par for the round and 2 under for the tournament.
1:35 p.m. -- Rickie Fowler is now within just two of the lead after his third birdie in his first five holes. Fowler stuck his approach shot to 4 feet on the par-4 fifth and made the putt.
1:12 p.m. – Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods are playing in successive groups. Mickelson just made an 18-footer for birdie at the sixth hole to stop the bleeding after consecutive bogeys while Woods three-putted the seventh. Both are 1 over for the day and 1 under for the tournament.
1:01 p.m. -- Luke Donald and Lee Westwood have just hit their opening tee shots. With Rory McIlroy's early exit, either could replace him as world No. 1 this week. Donald needs to finish solo fourth or better while Westwood needs to win and have Donald finish tied for second or worse.
12:53 p.m. -- Rickie Fowler, who picked up his first TOUR win in Charlotte on Sunday, is making a move. He two-putted the second hole from 58 feet for his first birdie, then added a 10-footer at the third to move to 3 under. Three players have won the week before winning THE PLAYERS -- the last Tiger Woods in 2001.
12:40 p.m. – Sergio Garcia has had an adventurous round that features just five pars in his first 16 holes. The 2008 PLAYERS champ has made one double bogey, two bogeys and eight birdies, including five on a flawless back nine, to get to 4 under for the tournament.
12:27 p.m. – Jhonattan Vegas is off to a quick start. He made a 15-footer for birdie at the first hole, then chipped in from 79 feet for an eagle at the second. He’s now 5 under and three off the lead with the leaders more than two hours from teeing off.
12:15 p.m. -- Ian James Poulter is 3 under after opening with a 65 but shooting 11 strokes higher on Friday. Earlier this morning he tweeted: “Serious stuff now guys, strong winds to contend with today at TPC, it will be difficult so no stupid mistakes & I will be happy with result.” Poulter tees off with Rickie Fowler now.
12:01 p.m. – Playing partners Carl Pettersson and Justin Leonard are making a move. Both are 3 under through eight holes and 4 under for the tournament. Pettersson and Leonard are both RBC Heritage champs on Pete Dye’s Harbour Town layout while Leonard has won THE PLAYERS, as well. Click here for more Dye winners.
11:48 a.m. – Chris Kirk has made it through 13 holes and has yet to make a bogey. He made a 4-footer at the first hole to get things started, then added a 6-footer at No. 4 and one from 13 at the 10th. He’s now 3 under for the tournament and the day.
11:32 a.m. – The back nine already seems to be claiming some victims. Pat Perez made four birdies on the front nine and turned in 32. He’s bogeyed Nos. 10 and 11, though, and has fallen back to 2 under for the day and the tournament.
11:15 a.m. – Look for the Stadium Course to play tougher as the day progresses. The wind has picked up considerably and will blow in the 15-25 mph range on Saturday – drying out the greens and creating errant shots. Temperatures will top out around 80 degrees.