Just a handful of players enter the final round in any kind of realistic contention for the Players' Championship title. Zoeller, the 1979 Masters champion and the 1984 US Open champion, the latter title won after an 18-hole play-off at Winged Foot with Norman, was in second place. Zoeller had been three behind Norman until the 17th at Sawgrass, an island green par-three, his nine- iron flew off the green and into the water. Last week on the corresponding hole at the Nestle tournament in Orlando, his tee shot bounced off a spectator's skull and into a lake to deny him his first win in eight years. He sank a 25-footer yesterday for bogey at 17 and finished at 15 under after a 68.
Jeff Maggert was next at 13 under par, with Nick Faldo and Davis Love III the only other potential contenders, finishing seven behind Norman at 12 under par. Norman has been 'on song', as he describes it, all week. His record opening round of 63 was treated casually by Norman, described as merely the 63 it ought to be, nothing forced, nothing extaordinary. When he finally finished the second round early yesterday morning, postponed by rain and darkness on Friday, he said: 'It was just a matter of getting the eyelids open and playing golf, because conditions could not have been more ideal.' Those conditions remained ideal throughout the day as the third round progressed, and Norman continued to present a golf clinic for his fellow competitors. He has now gone 80 competitive holes without a bogey. 'I just hope it goes another 18holes,' he said. Despite the disparity of the scores on the leaderboard, Norman's history makes today's final round outcome unpredictable, and potentially very exciting. There have been many examples of 'The Shark' taking a solid grip on a tournament and never letting go, as at the Open last July at Sandwich, but for every one of those there is an even more memorable instance of Norman letting a big one slip through his fins.
Faldo played the final nine holes of his second round early Saturday morning and afterwards stressed the need to play aggressively and make a lot of birdies, but he started the third round slowly, with eight straight pars, finally hitting his iron approach shots to easy birdie range on the ninth and 10th holes to move to 10 under. It was all pars again until the 15th, where he got the first of another two birdies in a row, and finished at 12 under with a 68.
He said: 'I played well, had a couple of chances on the front nine that didn't come off.' Commenting on Norman's play, Faldo said: 'It's the trend of the moment for guys to get it all spot on.'
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