Ames survives a scary day at Sawgrass

Ames survives a scary day at Sawgrass

By DOUG FERGUSON

The Associated Press

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Stephen Ames learned not to poke fun of Tiger Woods.

Next up is an opponent that might be even more daunting the TPC at Sawgrass, a notorious course that lived up to its reputation Saturday at The Players Championship with 19 lead changes, stunning collapses and a leader who is looking for redemption in more ways than one.

Ames was more simple than spectacular, and that was enough to scratch out a 2-under 70 that gave him a one-shot lead over Vijay Singh and Sergio Garcia going into the final round of the PGA Tour’s showcase event.

“The day was not easy,” Ames said. “This week has been a very patient week putting the ball in the right spots and course management, getting it around.”

He kept it on grass, not the bottom of a lake, which always help.

And he avoided the mistakes that crushed the hopes of Arron Oberholser, who put two balls in the water and tumbled out of the lead into a tie for 16th in the final two holes.

Ames was at 9-under 207 and in position to erase a couple of dubious memories.

Four years ago, he closed with a 67 and looked as if he might win until Craig Perks chipped in for eagle on the 16th, holed a 35-foot birdie putt on the 17th and chipped in for par on the final hole for a two-shot victory.

More recently, he is known as the guy who taunted a Tiger.

Ames faced Woods in the first round of the Match Play Championship, and said he had a good chance to beat the world’s No. 1 player, “especially where he’s hitting it.” Woods read the comments, then sent Ames into the record books with a 9-and-8 victory, winning the first nine holes.

His nickname the last few weeks is “9 and 8,” although those numbers took on new meaning Saturday.

Ames was at 9 under.

Singh (70) and Garcia (70) were 8 under.

“Did I deal with it? I dealt with it. Didn’t go anywhere with it,” Ames said of his brush with Woods. “I left it at that. I got … pummeled.”

He knows better not to boast about how he has tamed Sawgrass for three days, and a reminder came as he walked toward the 13th green and saw Adam Scott in the group behind him. Scott and Ames started the day at 7 under, one shot out of the lead. Scott was at 3 over through 12 holes.

Ames quickly did some math.

“Doesn’t that add up to 10 over for the day?” he said to Robert Ames, his brother and caddie. “Holy, geez. It can happen.”

And it did.

Oberholser walked to the 17th tee with a share of the lead. He walked off the green in a tie for seventh, courtesy of a ball in the water and three putts for triple bogey and a 74.

Scott, the 2004 winner of golf’s fifth major, shot 45 on the front nine and wound up with an 82.

Woods was seven strokes back after a 73. He was so frustrated after a bogey on the sixth hole that he slung his putter some 25 feet toward his bag, pulled off his cap and said angrily, “Stop making mistakes!”

Sawgrass wouldn’t have it any other way.

It sets up what should be an entertaining Sunday for the richest prize on the PGA Tour, with 16 players within five shots of the lead and no one safe until the scorecard is signed.

Former Masters champion Mike Weir was the only player among the last 30 to play who broke 70, a 4-under 68 that put him at 6-under 210 with Henrik Stenson, who had a hole-in-one and shot 70.

Two-time U.S. Open champion Retief Goosen quietly went about his business for a 71, leaving him in a log jam of players at 209 that included 36-hole leader Jim Furyk (75).

No one was safe in the swirling wind and firm, crusty conditions least of all Oberholser.

A winner at Pebble Beach, he ran off four straight birdies around the turn and found himself atop the leaderboard when the silliness at Sawgrass began. First, his 50-foot birdie putt on the 16th rammed into the back of the cup and went airborne, landing near the front of the cup.

Oberholser was all smiles, knowing he caught a break.

But the smile quickly turned to shock when his 9-iron shot into the air and came down well short of the island-green 17th, leading to a triple bogey. He hit his tee shot on the 18th into the water and escaped with double bogey.

“I played great for 16 holes today,” Oberholser said. “That just goes to show you … all you need is one poor swing under these conditions, and you’re writing a 6 on the card. In my case, I made a bad club choice and one poor swing and it added up to 6-6. I’m not the first person that’s done that. And I certainly won’t be the last.”

And he won’t get all the sympathy from the field.

Stenson became one of eight players to take at least a share of the lead with a hole-in-one on the 13th hole. He finished bogey-bogey for a 70 and wound up three shots behind.

Scott three-putted for double bogey on the par-5 second, and it was downhill from there. Unlike Davis Love III, he stopped to comment about a round gone awry.

“It ridiculous, but I felt like I was going to shoot 90 out there for a while,” he said.

Furyk hit his tee shot into the water at No. 2 for double bogey and could easily have disappeared. Considered one of the toughest players on tour, he battled through bogeys with six birdies to at least give himself a chance.

“I had a lot of negatives and a lot of positives,” he said. “I’ll try to have more positives tomorrow.”

Woods was within three shots of the lead until he was fooled by the wind at the par-3 13th.

“We threw grass probably 10 times, and we got six different gusts,” he said. “You hope you time it right.”

More often than not, Sawgrass had the last laugh.