Sunday, May 14, 2017

Ian Poulter in T5 position, three behind leaders

Sergio Garcia on fire at TPC Sawgrass with eagle on No. 16 at PLAYERS championship

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Florida – The chants of the little kids waiting impatiently for his autograph on Saturday afternoon at the PLAYERS Championship were music to Sergio Garcia’s ears.
“Mas-ters champ. Mas-ters champ.”
Granted, Garcia didn’t exactly start this tournament like the man who was last seen slipping on the iconic Green Jacket a month ago.
Garcia was 4 over after his first six holes Thursday at TPC Sawgrass, a venue he considers one of his “most favourite we play all year.” But the sting of the 40 he posted at the turn was negated by two birdies and a hole-in-one at the signature 17th on the way to an opening-round 73.
Spurred on by the ace, the ebullient Spaniard, who won THE PLAYERS in 2008 and has three other top-three finishes here, has patiently worked his way back into contention with rounds of 71 and 67 that leaves him at 5 under entering Sunday’s final round.
The Spaniard is T7 on 211 four strokes behind the American joint leaders J B Holmes (68-69-70) and Kyle Stanley (69-66-72) who are a shot ahead of South African Louis Oosthuizen (69-66-73).
England's Ian Poulter is in joint fifth position on 210 with rounds of 72, 67 and 71.
Garcia came from three strokes behind to win in a play-off in ’08 – and it’s evident he has regained his comfort zone.
Garcia said he hit the practice range hard in the two weeks prior to THE PLAYERS after allowing himself to enjoy his first major victory in 73 attempts. He hit the talk-show circuit and took the ceremonial kick-off at a soccer match between his beloved Real Madrid and Barcelona – all the while wearing the Green Jacket, which he brought with him to Florida this week.
“Wouldn't you?” Garcia said with a shrug of his shoulders and a broad grin. “It's simple. When we get to the Masters next year, they're going to take it away, so I think I'm going to hold on to it as long as I can for this year.”
At the same time, Garcia admitted to a bit of a Masters Tournament hangover early in the week. He said he was rusty, but more so “head-wise,” Garcia said, than with his swing.
“I felt like a little bit in chains on Thursday because … how overwhelming everything has been,” he said. “You get there … and I was thinking, come on, you have to play well after winning the Masters, you have to, you have to, you have to, and I kind of probably put a little bit too much pressure on myself.”
The ace on Thursday -- just the eighth in history at the island green -- “helped a lot,” Garcia said. He has played his next 45 holes on the challenging Pete Dye creation in 9 under and will tee off Sunday with a legitimate chance to become the sixth multiple winner of THE PLAYERS.
Garcia called Saturday a “great day.” He made three birdies in six holes on the front nine and three straight starting at the 11th on the back. He also made an eagle from just off the green at the 16th.
The conditions that greeted players in the third round were challenging. But Garcia threw the caution he had felt the first two days into the brisk wind as he made his way up the leaderboard.
“Even though it was much tougher with the windy conditions and how gusty it was out there, I was able to hit … some really good quality shots,” he said. “Thanks to that and some great putts … we were able to shoot a very good 5 under.”
Garcia has a good friend and two-time European Tour winner, Jose Manuel Lara, on the bag this week. His regular caddy, Glen Murray, is taking three tournaments off after the birth of his second child.
All in all, it’s been an easy transition because Garcia is of a relatively independent mind when it comes to his game-time decisions.
“He gave me some good reads,” Garcia said of his new bagman, a friend since they were teenagers. “He gave me some good confidence on some of the shots.
“Unfortunately, I would not always listen to him on the last because I was going to hit my putt kind of inside left and he made me hit it straight and I missed it just right, but we'll excuse him for that one.”
That closing bogey notwithstanding, Garcia can tell he is playing more like he was last month at Augusta National. But he doesn’t feel like a changed man after donning that green jacket after defeating Justin Rose in a sudden-death playoff.
“I'm not going to lie -- it does help to win a major and to win the Masters the way I did it,” he said. “But I don't feel like I'm that different a player.”
He certainly seems like the same ol’ Sergio this week at THE PLAYERS – confident and in contention entering the final round.

par 216 (3x72) players from USA unless stated otherwise
207 J B Holmes 68 69 70, K Stanley 69 66 72.
208 L Oosthuizen (S Africa) 69 66 73
209 Si Woo Kim (S Korea) 69 72 68.
210 E Grillo (Argentina) 72 71 57, I Poulter (England) 72 67 71
211 S Garcia (Spain) 73 71 67, P Cantlay 69 70 72, A Noren (Sweden) 68 71 72.

215 R McIlroy (N Ireland) 73 71 171, J Day (Australia) 70 72 73 (T20).
216 J Rose (England) 74 71 71 (T25)
217 T Hatton (England) 76 70 71, G McDowell (N Ireland) 71 72 74, T Fleetwood (England) 74 67 76, P Casey (England) 71 69 77 (T31).



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