Recap of the day
Morning story: Welcome to the Tiger Woods show! After the damp squib of Woods-Mickelson-Fowler over the first two days (Phil and Rickie missed the cut), Tiger cut loose, roared 60 spots up the leaderboard to T8 and inspired a series of GIFs with the connecting theme of fire. He took just 30 swishes to the turn (his lowest-ever nine at Sawgrass by two), hit 8 of 9 greens and took just 11 putts. By the 12th he was 8-under for the day and up to T5 but the rhythm went in a 1-over final third and his 65 was matched by Jordan Spieth, who finished birdie-birdie-birdie. Still, a 65 represented his lowest ever lap in 66 trips around the Florida course.
Afternoon story: “I think that some of the guys will probably shoot better scores than I did out there. It’s definitely gettable. It’s set up for these guys to go low," said Spieth after walking off with his 65. But his prediction, backed up by Tiger, that the leaders would shoot the lights out didn’t materialise. In fact, as the course dried out, the last 10 groups averaged over par (72.35). Only two of those 20 players broke 70 but, crucially, five-shot leader Webb Simpson was one of them. The idea that this is his week was highlighted at regular intervals – an opening birdie, an approach to kick-in range at 4, a seven-footer for a birdie at 9 after he’d dropped one at 8, a holed bunker shot for a dramatic eagle at 11, a superb tee-shot to the island green and 3-foot birdie at 17 and, just when it seemed he would give one back, an exclamation mark on another exceptional day thanks to a 17ft par putt at 18. He’s 19-under after 54 holes. Wow. He leads by seven, the largest 54-hole margin in the tournament's history.
Low round of the day: Yep, Tiger and Jordan’s 65. Next best? Dufner’s 66.
Sunday weather forecast
The sunshine continues but there’s a fair amount of cloud too. Temperatures are in the mid-80s while there’s a fairly constant wind in the afternoon although nothing too extreme.
Top 3 after at 54 holes - how they performed
Webb Simpson 197 – Only 11 greens in regulation but how about 100% scrambling to keep the momentum going! It would have been so easy to slip over par today given the tough afternoon conditions; instead he broke 70 for the third day running and extended his lead from five to seven.
Danny Lee 204 – While those around him leaked oil, Lee kept a bogey off his card, shot 16 pars and two birdies and ended the day as Simpson’s nearest challenger. It’s a long way from first to second though.
Dustin Johnson 206 - Hit 9 (of 14) fairways for the third day running but just 11 greens for the second day running. DJ leaned on his short game today, showing 71.43% scrambling and 3.37 Strokes Gained: Putting when he tapped in at 18.
Fate of the favorites
Jason Day 207 – Just one birdie in the final 13 holes when he needed a bunch to get closer to Simpson. Hit 13 greens in his 71 but putter didn’t help him out when really needed.
Jordan Spieth 208 – After making the cut on the number, Spieth came to the party with a 65 to end at -8. He pelted 14 greens and needed just 24 putts. Ten shots lower than his opening 18 and up 60 places to T8.
Justin Thomas 211 – He’s twice shot 65 on Moving Day but couldn’t quite hit those heights this time. The 68 was his best of the week though and he hit 14 greens after finding just 19 over the first 36 holes. T33.
Rory McIlroy – Missed Cut.
Dustin Johnson 206 – Winning his battle to stay at World No. 1 (see below) after a 69 took him to eight spots up to solo third. Has closed with 68s at TPC Sawgrass in the last two years. He’ll need a lot of help from Simpson to win from here but at least he’s in position to cash in.
Revised outright betting: 1/12 Simpson, 20/1 Lee, Johnson, 40/1 Day, 80/1 Schwartzel, Spieth, 100/1 Woods.
Webb Simpson (66-63-68=197): "I tried not to shoot the same score as I did yesterday and I tried not to protect the lead. I came out with the same objectives I had the first two days and all in all it was a good day. I feel like putting is fun now. Definitely a different mind-set than I had, say, two years ago."
Tiger Woods (72-71-65=208): "I finally got off to a good start. Overall, the whole day, I hit a lot of quality shots, and 65 was probably as high as I could have shot, which was kind of nice. I had the speed of the greens today, unlike last week. Eventually I’m going to put all of the pieces together, and today for the most part I did that.”
Jordan Spieth (75-68-65=208): “I started to feel really comfortable in my set-up. This was really solid today with the putter inside 15 feet, and that just makes you more comfortable. It leads into the rest of the game. I actually drove the ball unbelievably well the first two days, and I hit my driver really poorly today and shot 7-under. So it just shows you where it actually matters, and that's on the greens.”
Road to victory at Sawgrass
2017 Si Woo Kim – R1: 7th, R2: 16th, R3: 4th
2016 Jason Day – R1: 1st, R2: 1st, R3: 1st
2015 Rickie Fowler – R1: 11th, R2: 3rd, R3: 11th
2014 Martin Kaymer – R1: 1st, R2: 1st, R3: 1st
2013 Tiger Woods – R1: 4th, R2: 2nd, R3: 4th
Notes: Two of the last five 54-hole leaders have converted and, delving back into history, it’s 19 from 44 so that’s less than 50% both short and long term. In terms of big, final-round comebacks, Henrik Stenson (2009) and Justin Leonard (1998) were both five adrift before storming through to win. Rickie Fowler produced a spectacular burst to triumph in 2015 but was only three off the pace when play began that Sunday.
Fate of the 54-hole leaders at Sawgrass - where did they finish?
2016 Jason Day – Winner
2015 Chris Kirk – 13th
Notes: There’s been a good strike-rate in recent years for 54-hole leaders/joint-leaders with three going on to take victory. Note, all were major winners – good news for 2011 U.S. Open champ Simpson if he really needed any historical help to add to his already enormous lead. Just to put Simpson’s current situation into context, in the history of the PGA Tour, no player has ever lost with a 54-hole lead of seven strokes or more.
Focus on – Jason Dufner
Dufner would seem a good fit for Sawgrass but, strangely, he’s managed just one top-30 finish in nine previous starts. That was actually a T6 on his third visit in 2011 but he just hasn’t been able to find the right formula since. After rounds of 72-69-66 this week, how about a 63 tomorrow to somehow put some pressure on fellow major winner Simpson. Dufner’s stats so far are part expected, part surprising. He’s missed just three fairways over the last two days but…. he’s gained over 7.5 strokes putting across the last 36 holes. Dufner’s SGP ranking from 2013-2016 reads 143, 167, 177, 164 although last year he improved to 90th and is 91st in SGP this year so there have been some improvements on the greens. This week he’s 2nd in SGP. With three top 20s but no top 10s in regular strokeplay this season, it looks like the flatstick can help Dufner secure his best finish of the campaign and a Sawgrass PB.
Focus on – Danny Lee
Second-placed Danny Lee’s form in the calendar year, starting with last week’s Wells Fargo Championship: MC-MC-51-55-64-MC-MC-MC-MC-58-MC-MC. Sawgrass form: MC-35-MC. Last three starts in Florida: MC-MC-MC. Hands up if you had him down as Simpson’s nearest challenger?
Focus on – The Battle for World No. 1
These are the minimum requirement to end this week top of the rankings:
Dustin Johnson – T11th. Current position – Solo 3rd
Justin Thomas – MC. Current position – T33
Jon Rahm – Solo 2nd. Current position – Solo 69th
Jordan Spieth – Solo 2nd: Current position – T9
Justin Rose – Win. Current position – T54
Notes: Five had a chance at the start of the week. Rahm (69th after a 77 today) and Rose (T55 after a 73) are done for but Spieth revived his hopes of that second place with his 65. DJ controls it currently but he'll need to keep his foot on the gas in R4 and hope that JT doesn't fire a low round to get back in the mix.