Webb Simpson extends Players Championship lead to seven shots
By Keith Jackson at TPC Sawgrass
Last Updated: 14/05/18 2:16am
Webb Simpson remained in total command of The Players Championship as he extended his lead to seven shots on day three at TPC Sawgrass.
Simpson actually led by nine when he holed out from a bunker for a sensational eagle at the 11th, although he did open the door for the chasing pack with a three-putt bogey at 14 before going on to birdie 17 and card a 68 - his score of 19 under par matching the 54-hole scoring record for the tournament.
Danny Lee heads the chasing pack on 12 under after he fired a steady 70, with Dustin Johnson set to retain world No 1 status for the 65th consecutive week as he climbed into outright third on 10 under.
The early Saturday headlines at the Stadium Course were dominated by Tiger Woods and Jordan Spieth, who both propelled themselves into the top 10 with superb rounds of 65 just a day after making the cut on the number.
But the star draws will need a spectacular final-day implosion from Simpson if they are to contend, with the 2012 US Open champion on cruise control in an impressive follow-up to Friday's course record-equalling 63.
Nobody had made inroads into Simpson's overnight five-stroke advantage when the leader teed off at 2:40pm, and his promise to stay aggressive was evident on the opening hole when he flicked a wedge to eight feet and rolled in the putt for birdie.
Simpson then came within inches of holing out from the fairway at the fourth and, although he missed the green at the short eighth and failed to get up-and-down, he got the shot back immediately with a nice pitch and putt for a four at the long ninth.
The 32-year-old stormed to 19 under after he flew the green with his 280-yard second to the 11th, and his bunker escape from some 35 yards pitched on the green and tracked straight into the hole for an amazing eagle.
His lapse on the 14th green was a surprise, and he missed great chances to repair the damage at 15 and 16 before staging an excellent response to finding the water at 17 in his second round, this time clipping a precise tee shot which caught the slope and rolled to tap-in range.
Simpson safely negotiated the final hole with a par as he signed for a 68, moments after Lee had closed on 12 under after a round containing just two birdies and 16 pars.
"I feel like today was a good day overall," said Simpson afterwards. "I wasn't quite as sharp as I'd like to be, dropped a couple shots. But overall, I felt like we had a great game plan and we stuck to it.
"It was a nice bonus on 11 and nice one on 18 to finish off the round. All in all, with a five-shot lead, I think it was a good, solid day, but I'd like to clean up those mistakes and come out tomorrow with an even sharper round.
"But Sunday you've got to give the course a little more respect, and I wanted to do that today. I wanted to hit away from the pins unless I had a sand-wedge in my hand, and I did that well.
"So I've got to come out tomorrow with that same mindset that I have a few par-fives, I have a few short par-fours, and there's going to be birdie chances, so I can't force anything, even if I'm even through 12 holes. I've just got to keep going and take my chances when I can."
Johnson again struggled to recapture his form of the first day, when he opened with a flawless 66, although he did birdie three of the last six holes to jump into third place on 10 under par.
The world No 1 is one ahead of Jason Dufner, Xander Schauffele, Jimmy Walker and Jason Day, with Woods and Spieth back on eight under alongside leading English challengers Ian Poulter and Tommy Fleetwood.
Woods fired his career-best round at Sawgrass and looked set to break the course record when he made his eighth birdie of the round at the 12th hole.
But he faltered down the stretch and had to settle for a 65 which matched the earlier effort of Spieth, who made six birdies on the back nine including each of the final three holes.
Fleetwood also birdied 16, 17 and 18 to card a 68, while last year's runner-up Poulter was "raging" after making a double-bogey at the last to slip out of the share of second he held after a birdie at the penultimate hole.
Watch the final round live on Sky Sports The Players: Featured group coverage begins at 2:30pm.