Simpson pushes Players lead to seven strokes; Woods, Spieth move up

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Webb Simpson
Webb Simpson of the United States putts during the third round of the Players Championship on the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass on May 12 in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. -- AFP

PONTE VEDRA BEACH — Webb Simpson will take a record seven-shot lead into the final round of the Players Championship after a four-under 68 on Saturday gave him 54-hole total of 19-under 197.

Simpson’s three-round total matched the tournament record set by Australian Greg Norman in 1994 en route to a four-stroke victory.

Simpson had been five strokes clear of three players after his second-round 63. With just 18 holes remaining in the $11-million tournament at TPC Sawgrass, Simpson was seven clear of New Zealand’s Danny Lee, who carded a 70 for 204.

World number one Dustin Johnson birdied three of his closing six holes in a 69 to grab third place on 206. Former world number one Jason Day of Australia was in a group of five on 207 — but the tournament is Simpson’s to lose.

Hours after Tiger Woods and Jordan Spieth charged up the leaderboard with morning 65s that moved them to eight-under, Simpson showed now sign of bowing to pressure from any quarter.

He declared his intentions with a birdie at the first and then another at the fourth to get to 17-under.

He bogeyed the par-three eighth but promptly recovered that shot with a birdie at the par-five ninth.

Simpson produced his shot of the day at the par-five 11th, where he sent his second shot some 33 yards past the hole and into a rear greenside bunker.

In another stroke of brilliance from a player currently ranked 41st in the world, Simpson proceeded to hole his third shot for an eagle that stretched his lead to seven strokes.

Simpson struggled somewhat in playing the 14th through the 16th in one-over.

But at the par-three 17th, where he took a double-bogey after finding the water on Friday, Simpson brought a huge crowd to their feet in sinking a three-footer for birdie that moved him back to 19-under.

No player on the PGA Tour has lost a tournament when leading by seven going into the final round.

Despite his position, Simpson said he saw room for improvement.

“I felt like today was a good day overall but then I wasn’t quite as sharp as I’d like to be,” he said.

Woods and Spieth will play alongside each other over the final round, with Woods delighted after his lowest score by three shots this year.

“I finally got off to a good start in birdieing the first couple of holes and I just kept it rolling from here,” said the 14-time major champion who is back in action this year after career-threatening back trouble.

“I played a lot of good shots out there today and it was nice to see a few putts go in.

“Overall on the whole day I just hit a lot of quality shots and a 65 was probably the highest I could have shot.”

If there was any disappointment, Woods said, it was in getting himself to eight-under through 12 but settling for a seven-under round. — AFP