Sutton looking good as weather intervenes

World No 1 Woods trails by three-shots before a storm warning holds up race for the $1m prize
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The Independent Online

One thing Hal Sutton made absolutely sure of yesterday. Prior to teeing off in the final round of the US Players Championship, the 41-year-old Ryder Cup player had not talked himself out of winning the richest first prize in the game, a cool $1.08 million (£675,000). "This is what I play golf for, to be paired in the Players Championship with the greatest player in the world," Sutton said.

With a round to play at the TPC at Sawgrass, Sutton led Tiger Woods by one stroke. But talk of how good Woods is and that only second place is up for grabs when the world No 1 is around gets Sutton's goat. "I have the best player according to the rankings right on my tail but that doesn't mean he is going to win," Sutton said. "Even though everybody else in the world is figuring out a way for him to go ahead and do it.

"I have said all week, Tiger is a great player but I can't do anything with Tiger. All I can do something with is Hal Sutton. The only point I really want to make is driving it in the fairway on the first tee. I will start making my points after that."

Darren Clarke, in winning the World Matchplay in San Diego last month, made a point of being the jovial, chatty Irishman to demystify Tiger's intensity. Sutton is too intense himself to take the same approach. "It will probably be business to business. Tiger doesn't talk a whole lot while he is playing and neither do I. We both have work to do. There is probably going to be some dirtiness in it, you know, like we will have to get down in the dirt and fight a little bit, probably."

When Woods birdied the first to move into a tie, the duel was joined. But it proved not to be a spectacular affair. While Sutton ground out the pars, Woods missed the greens at the third and fourth to drop two behind. Whenever Sutton got into trouble, he found a way to get out of it. At the eighth, he was in a spot in a greenside bunker that suggested he would be lucky to keep the ball on the green. Somehow he got it to stop within 12 feet and then holed the putt.

Both players found tricky spots in the rough off the 11th green and while Sutton only just made the green, Woods got his ball onto the back tier, six feet from the hole. A pivotal moment in the making, Sutton made sure it went his way by holing his 30-footer up the slope for a birdie-four. Woods, as he had done with all of his birdie chances since the first, missed to fall three behind.

As the prospect of a fourth victory in seven starts this season seemed to be receding, Woods got a reprieve, and a chance to regroup, when the siren blew to halt play as the pair played the 12th due to a thunderstorm in the Jacksonville area.

Sutton, America's best player in last year's Ryder Cup, beat Jack Nicklaus to win the 1983 Players. A former US Amateur champion, when he won the '83 USPGA he was one of many to get the "next Nicklaus" tag. What followed were three divorces and one spell of eight winless years. But he has returned to his best over the last three years and on Saturday more than matched Woods until calamity befell him at the 17th, as he has for so many others this week.

Sutton's tee shot at the par-three pitched on the top tier of the island green and took one hop into the water, where it joined 74 other balls from the first three rounds. The triple bogey six meant Sutton's four-stroke advantage over Woods was cut to one. "On this course, you have to expect the unexpected, or at least accept the unexpected," Sutton said. "If you don't, something else catastrophic will happen on the next hole."

Colin Montgomerie enjoyed a rollercoaster back nine. Monty went to the turn in 35, then birdied the 10th. But his second at the 11th came up short in the water to provoke a bogey. Undeterred, the Scot hit a wedge to an inch at the next and also birdied the short 13th from five feet before bogeying the 14th. At the delay, Monty was sharing third place at four under, the clubhouse mark of Nick Price, who with Mark O'Meara had the day best 67.

Out at the back of the field yesterday morning Nick Faldo had a most uncharacteristic round of 71 which included five birdies and an eagle but two bogeys and a quadruple bogey. A seven at the short 13th was the result of two tee shots in the water but at the par-five 16th he hit a three-iron from 222 yards to six feet for the eagle.

Faldo's former caddie, Fanny Sunesson, has split from Sergio Garcia after just eight events working with the young Spaniard.

Meanwhile, Sandy Lyle, a former Players champion who did not make the field this year, shot a 60 in the Saturday Series pro-am for those who miss the cut. Lyle had two eagles and eight birdies at the nearby Golf Club of South Hampton.

Scores from the Players Championship at TPC at Sawgrass, Ponde Vedra Beach, Florida, today (US unless stated, par 72, play suspended because of lightning threat):

Third-round leaders

207 H Sutton 69 69 69. 208 T Woods 71 71 66. 211 T Lehman 71 68 72. 212 J Sluman 75 71 66. 213 L Janzen 70 73 70, C Parry (Aus) 70 74 69. 214 P Azinger 75 69 70, R Damron 78 70 66, S Dunlap 73 70 71, E Els (SA) 73 69 72, C Montgomerie (GB) 75 69 70. 215 F Funk 74 73 68, L Mattiace 70 72 73, G Chalmers (Aus) 71 75 69. Selected: 220 I Woosnam (GB) 76 74 70. 221 P Lawrie (GB) 76 74 71. 222 L Westwood (GB) 77 73 72.

Early final round totals

284 N Price (Zim) 73 71 73 67 286 M O'Meara 75 74 70 67 287 D Duval 75 73 70 69 288 B Mayfair 70 74 73 71 290 T Bjorn (Den) 76 73 72 69, S Appleby (Aus) 72 77 71 70, G Kraft 77 72 70 71 291 S Jones 80 70 72 69, E Toledo (Mex) 75 74 72 70, N Ozaki (Jap) 70 77 73 71, C Franco (Par) 73 73 73 72, S Pate 76 74 68 73, K Perry 70 77 70 74 292 F Couples 77 73 73 69, V Singh (Fij) 75 73 74 70, H Frazar 77 70 72 73, C Perry 76 70 71 75 293 S Flesch 79 71 72 71, D Toms 77 72 72 72, O Uresti 71 68 80 74, B Fabel 70 74 75 74 294 J Kelly 79 70 73 72, B Langer (Ger) 70 76 75 73, K Triplett 75 72 74 73, S Gump 72 75 73 74, JP Hayes 73 76 71 74, S Ames (Tri) 72 72 75 75 295 C Riley 73 77 75 70, J Daly 77 73 74 71, L Westwood (GB) 77 73 72 73, D Love 73 75 72 75, F Lickliter 75 74 71 75 296 N Faldo (GB) 73 76 76 71, R Allenby (Aus) 73 71 77 75, D Sutherland 75 74 71 76, G Norman (Aus) 75 71 73 77 297 B Glasson 74 72 80 71, D Frost (SA) 78 69 78 72, C Barlow 71 76 75 75, M Brooks 72 75 71 79 298 K Wentworth 74 72 75 77, W Austin 77 72 71 78, R Cochran 77 73 71 77, J Furyk 72 72 75 79 299 T Kite 75 72 77 75, D Barron 72 74 76 77, F Allem (SA) 75 65 82 77, S McCarron 78 67 77 77, B Chamblee 74 74 73 78, S Lowery 76 74 71 78, I Woosnam (GB) 76 74 70 79 300 T Tryba 75 71 80 74, D Forsman 77 73 75 75, B Watts 77 71 74 78, P Lawrie (GB) 76 74 71 79 301 B Faxon 79 71 76 75, N Henke 78 70 76 77, O Browne 77 73 71 80, R Black 74 76 70 81

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