By Andrew Both
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. (Reuters) – Webb Simpson put further daylight between himself and his rivals at the Players Championship on Saturday by carding a third-round 68 to open up a seven-stroke lead at TPC Sawgrass.
New Zealander Danny Lee shot 70 to move into second place on 12-under 204, with world number one Dustin Johnson (69) another two strokes behind in third.
Tiger Woods and Jordan Spieth carded matching best-of-the-day 65s to jump into a tie for ninth on eight-under-par, though they still trail the leader by 11.
They will play together on Sunday in a pairing that should draw bigger crowds than Simpson and Lee.
Starting the day five strokes clear, Simpson increased his advantage with a solid 68, the highlight of which was holing out from a bunker for eagle at the par-five 11th
The 2012 U.S. Open champion’s 19-under total of 197 matched the tournament 54-hole record held by Greg Norman. Simpson is also within sight of the biggest victory margin at the tournament — seven strokes by Steve Elkington in 1997.
No golfer has surrendered a lead of more than six strokes in the final round of a PGA Tour event, though Simpson will be keen to avoid the same fate at Alex Cejka here nine years ago.
Cejka held a five-stroke lead after 54 holes but shot a closing 79 to plunge to equal ninth.
“I’ve been a pro since 2008 and you never know when a week like this will come,” Simpson said, adding that he wanted to erase the mistakes from his game and post a clean round on Sunday.
The 32-year-old, who has four PGA Tour victories, was as surprised as anyone with his score and said he would have been happy with Lee’s 12-under total if he had been offered it before the start of the event.
“I’ve holed out a few times from off the green and made some long putts, and to get to (19-under), I think you’ve got to do that,” he said.
“Certain guys it’s not surprising that they play well a lot, like Jason Day and Rory (McIlroy) and Spieth and these guys, but I certainly haven’t had a career like theirs.
“But it doesn’t surprise me at the same time because I feel like I’ve been confident, I’ve been working hard, and I’m really hungry. I’m hungry to get back in the winner’s circle.”
The leader said he had gone unrecognised in a local coffee shop on Saturday. He planned to return on Sunday, when perhaps people will take notice.
Lee said he was not going to be looking at what Simpson was doing on Sunday.
“I’m going to just keep my head down and play my game,” he said.
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)