Some love TPC Sawgrass. Some think they spoiled a perfectly good swamp. But The Players always throws out a fascinating and diverse leaderboard.
Going into Sunday’s final round, the world rankings of the top 10 are 2, 50, 101, 26, 128, 225, 81, 18, 190 and 33.
Two-time DP World Tour winner Min Woo Lee, in 50th, made it into the PGA Tour’s flagship event “by one-eighth of a shot in the ranking points”. He will start two back of Scottie Scheffler going into Sunday’s final round.
The pair, playing one group apart on Saturday, traded early blows. The Australian holed out from the fairway on the opening hole, before his American rival chipped in for an eagle of his own on the second.
On 17 – where Aaron Rai had just made the 36th hole-in-one in Players history – Lee almost holed from all of 40 feet, while Scheffler knocked it to eight feet and missed. It was edge-of-your-seat stuff, and packed crowd around one of the most famous holes in golf could not get enough.
Nothing could separate them as they both reached the 18th at 13-under. But when Lee’s six-foot par putt lipped out, Scheffler dropped one final birdie for a 65 and a two-shot lead.
“I always get nervous,” Scheffler admitted following his round. “But I feel very comfortable.
“I prepare to be in these moments. I prepare to come out here and play well. So when I’m at home getting ready for tournaments, I’m hopeful that I’m going to be in this position, and I’ve been fortunate so far this year that the hard work is continuing to pay off.”
The 26-year-old, who won his fifth PGA Tour title just last month in Phoenix, won’t be taking his nearest opponent lightly.
“I don’t know how much you all may know about Min Woo, but I’ve heard about him for a long time and he’s a very talented player.”
Lee, meanwhile, says he is “going to have fun”.
“I’m looking forward to it,” he added. “It’s obviously going to be a challenge, and Scottie’s playing really good, but I’m just going to go out there and hit it the best I can.”
As is so often the case with Australian golfers, the crowds have really taken to Lee, who is now greeted by calls of “Woo!” every time he drops a putt.
“From the start there was a lot of people that were going for me just because they’re probably nice people and they want me to do well,” he explained.
“It’s really special to get that chant. I had that same thing at the Aussie PGA last year. It’s even cooler here on 17 at Sawgrass. You can’t ask for anything more.
“I love playing in front of a crowd, and I love entertaining them. So I hope they had a good show today and hopefully I can do it again tomorrow.”
Scheffler prefers to relax on the golf course by having a small wager with his caddie, Ted Scott, that involved money changing hands every time the Masters champion chips in.
“He owes me,” Scheffler joked afterwards. “It’s an IOU from Teddy!
“It’s just something he came up with that was just fun for us – probably more fun for me than it is to him. He occasionally cheers for one to not go in, if that makes any difference.”
If either of these two end up on top come Sunday afternoon, they will be very popular winners.
As for the chasing pack, you have to think if they finish above Scheffler and Lee then they win the tournament.
There are two Englishman in the hunt. Sandy Lyle and Rory McIlroy remain the only players from the UK to have lifted that famous gold trophy, but Tommy Fleetwood hopes he can arrest his run of poor form – and what a place to do it.
“To go out there with a chance to win The Players, that’s an amazing feeling,” he said. “But what’s important for me is to play like the player that I want to be and be at that standard with the best players in the world and keep giving myself more chances.”
Rai, meanwhile, finished birdie-ace-birdie – the first player to do that in Players history.
“I hit it great, it looked great in the air, and I was very pleased to see it go in,” he said of his hole-in-one in typically understated manner.
Let’s have ourselves a Sunday.
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