Tiger, Sergio set for showdown

Sergio Garcia and Tiger Woods had some words Saturday after the third round. Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- Perhaps the early-morning restart will serve to warm the chill between Tiger Woods and Sergio Garcia, their bad blood put aside as bigger, more pressing matters present themselves.

Saturday came with so much promise, dreams of a Tiger-Sergio battle at the TPC Sawgrass during the third round of The Players Championship.

But weather issues took the starch out of their matchup, the only fireworks coming when Garcia quibbled in a television interview with Woods' timing regarding -- of all things -- when he pulled a club from his bag.

According to Garcia, that led to his wayward second shot on the par-5 second hole, the distraction from crowd noise causing him to flinch and send the ball to an unintended destination.

"That didn't help very much," Garcia said. "But it was unfortunate because -- I mean, I might have hit it in there if nothing happens, you never know. But if I hit a good shot there and maybe make a birdie, it gets my day started in a bit of a different way."

Oh boy.

Television replays showed the crowd reacted before Garcia had started his swing. He could have backed off. Instead he took on Woods, who afterward chirped, "It's really not surprising he was complaining about something."

Woods is typically nonconfrontational in such situations, choosing to diffuse rather than take a swipe, which speaks to his disdain for Garcia -- who, for his part, didn't back down.

Too bad they can't wrestle in the 15th fairway, where their third round came to a halt due to darkness after a nearly two-hour delay earlier due to dangerous conditions.

As it stands, Garcia and Woods are tied for second, two strokes behind Sweden's David Lingmerth, a guy Tiger wouldn't recognize with his name plastered across his back.

Woods didn't even know Lingmerth led, thinking another Swede -- Henrik Stenson -- was on top. But Stenson bogeyed a hole late to drop into a tie with Garcia and Woods, who will play the remainder of the 15th hole starting at 7:10 a.m. ET, followed by the last three holes.

Then the final round will commence starting at 8:35 after players are re-paired according to score, meaning Woods, Garcia, et al can head back for some rest before a late-afternoon tee time.

Don't expect Tiger to give Sergio a ride or vice versa. They have not been close for years, the situation exasperated even more for Garcia by his lack of success against Woods over the years. This is their 20th round together on the PGA Tour, and Woods has scored better 12 times and been beaten only three times. For the third round, Woods is even par while Garcia is 1 over.

Neither did much on the course, each making a birdie and a bogey on the front nine to shoot 36, then Woods making five straight pars on the back while Garcia had two bogeys and a birdie.

"I was asking Joey [caddie Joe LaCava] what was the forecast for tomorrow morning, is it going to be cool, is it going to be windy, what's the forecast, and it's not supposed to be much wind, so if that's the case, we'll call it quits," Woods said. "If it was supposed to be windy and howling and gusty, I would have played it, I would have gotten that hole in. But it's supposed to die down, and hopefully I'll have a little bit more benign conditions for that second shot."

Woods has only once before shot three consecutive rounds in the 60s at Sawgrass, and that occurred in 2001 -- the only time he won here. He'll need three birdies on his final four holes, an unlikely scenario.

But if he is able to get through his round under par, it would be only the fifth time in 16 Players appearances that he has shot three rounds over this course under par.

"I was pretty patient today," Woods said. "I stayed grounded. It was a day of grinding."

Garcia has had more success, especially of late, winning this tournament in 2008 a year after finishing second. He rode some strong putting to the 36-hole lead but cooled off on the greens.

After taking 26 and 25 putts through the first two rounds, he already had accumulated 23 through 14 holes in the third round.

What happens early in the morning will determine whether Woods and Garcia are to play the fourth round together.

Lingmerth has just the 18th hole to play, and unless he implodes, he is likely to be no worse than tied for the lead. Stenson, the 2009 Players champion, would join him as long as he is at least tied with Garcia and Woods.

Regardless, a rather lengthy day is in store. There is the possibility of more poor weather, which can make things even more trying. Lingmerth, a PGA Tour rookie who now lives in Jacksonville Beach and has missed five straight cuts, will sleep on the prospect of playing the scary 18th, then returning several hours later for one of the biggest rounds of his life.
Chasing him will be three past champions of the Players, including the No. 1-ranked player in the world.

"I'm aware of where they're at," Lingmerth said.

You can bet the same for Woods and Garcia, who will try to put their animosity aside and focus on the task ahead.