PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — While all eyes were on Tiger Woods and Sergio Garcia in their high-profile final pairing Saturday and 2009 winner Henrik Stenson atop The Players Championship leaderboard, into the mix slipped little-known Tour rookie David Lingmerth.
Since he lost in a playoff in January’s Humana Challenge to Brian Gay, Lingmerth had missed eight of 10 cuts, including the past five. But Lingmerth, a native of Sweden who lives in Arkansas, overcame stiff winds and looming darkness to build a two-shot lead — at 12-under par — over Woods, Garcia and Stenson, all past champions here.
Thunderstorms in the Jacksonville area caused a 108-minute weather delay that lasted until 5:57 p.m. EDT and prevented the conclusion of the third round.
When tournament officials called play due to darkness, Lingmerth showed the cool under pressure and killer instinct he will need to close the deal on Sunday. Lingmerth, like the eight players still on the course, had the option to finish the hole he was on.
And boy did he finish, calmly sinking a 10-foot birdie putt on the par-3 17th island green to move to 4-under par for the day.
“I was rolling it pretty good on the back nine,” he explained. “So I figured I would keep it going.”
The question now is whether the 25-year-old can carry the momentum into the final round.
Lingmerth will begin Sunday on the tee of the daunting par-4 18th hole, the most difficult through three rounds, playing well over par.
But all 18 holes at TPC Sawgrass probably will have weighed on Lingmerth’s mind overnight.
“I might have some butterflies,” he said. “It might be hard to sleep. I don’t know.”
Barring a collapse on the 18th hole, Lingmerth will be in the final pairing in the Tour’s showcase event. Chances are Woods, Garcia or Stenson will be beside him.
Following a tough and testy day with the world’s No. 1 player, Garcia likely will be looking to pair up with anyone but Woods.
An already strained rivalry became tenser early in the third round when the gallery roared as Woods pulled a 5-wood from his bag and decided to go for the green on the par-5 second hole.
At the same time, Garcia, the 36-hole leader, was in his pre-shot routine and promptly sliced his 3-wood approach into a stand of trees 60 yards right of the green. He made a momentum-shifting bogey, and Woods pulled ahead with a scrambling birdie.
During the weather delay, Garcia voiced his displeasure with Woods’ decision to select a club while a fellow competitor was over his golf ball.
“You have to be careful because another guy is playing,” Garcia reiterated after his round. “If you do something, the crowd is going to react.”
Woods chalked up the incident to the Garcia’s well-documented grousing.
“Not real surprising that he is complaining about something,” Woods deadpanned.
Told of the comment, Garcia fired back. “At least I’m true to myself and know what I’m doing.”
The fireworks out of the 77,000-square-foot clubhouse at TPC Sawgrass overshadowed each player’s up-and-down on the course.
Garcia made two birdies and three bogeys to shoot 1-over through 14 holes, though he did make several key par-saving putts. Woods followed his second-hole birdie with a bogey on the next hole, and then reeled off 11 straight pars to finish his day where he began, at 10-under par.
While Woods and Garcia contended with each other, Stenson stormed to the top of the leaderboard. The native of Sweden birdied three holes on the front nine to turn at 12-under but made bogeys at the par-5 11th and par-4 15th.
In the end, though, a fellow countryman stole the show — for now. Stenson, Woods and Garcia all know what it takes to win golf’s richest prize, $1.71 million, on Sunday.
“I’ve never played with Dave and only just met him this spring,” Stenson said. “Tomorrow I’ll find out more about him.”