It was anything but elementary for J.B. Holmes who despite wild inaccuracy off the tee used a sizzling short game to tie fellow American Kyle Stanley for the lead after the third round at The Players Championship in Florida on Saturday.
Holmes, a four-times PGA Tour winner, found places at the TPC Sawgrass previously untrodden by man, yet somehow managed only one bogey in a two-under-par 70, on an afternoon that started breezy but fell calm over the final hour or so.
Stanley, meanwhile, settled down after a slow start and proceeded to hit the ball like a metronome, hardly straying from the middle of the fairway but managing only a pedestrian even-par 72.
Holmes and Stanley, at nine-under 207, headed South African Louis Oosthuizen (73) by one stroke, with South Korean Kim Si-woo (68) two behind heading into the final round of the PGA Tour’s flagship event on Sunday.
On a day when most of the big names failed to make a move, U.S. Masters champion Sergio Garcia was a notable exception, carding 67 to trail the leaders by four strokes.
“Until the last three holes it was very windy and very tough. It was hard for me to hit fairways,” Holmes said in a large understatement, adding that he was used to hitting recovery shots from tough positions.
“I grew up in the woods playing golf ... today was just a throw-back to how I played junior golf.
“When I did miss it, I missed it spots where I could get around the green and have a chance to get up-and-down.”
Co-leader Stanley, a one-time PGA Tour winner, was pleased to overcome a poor start.
“I thought I handled (the situation) pretty well,” he said.
“Two-over through four, I just had to remind myself to stay pretty patient. The birdie on (hole) eight kind of settled me down a little bit and then just tried to keep things pretty simple after that, back to my game plan of fairways and greens.”
Oosthuizen, the runaway 2010 British Open champion, was not at the top of his game, but did enough to hang in close to the leaders.
“I struggled today,” he said. “I didn't hit it great. A few things were behind it, probably tried too much in the windy conditions and missed loads of fairways in the early stages.
“With all that, being one off the lead, I'm very happy going into tomorrow.”
Garcia was also happy to be within striking distance.
“I was able to hit some really, really quality shots and thanks to that and some great putts, we were able to shoot a very good five-under.”
(Reporting by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina; Editing by Ian Ransom)