Tuesday finish on the cards and in the clouds
GOLF: Will it ever end? This edition of the Players Championship has had more stops and starts than an old jalopy where the weather at the TPC at Sawgrass has been perfect for ducks, but not for golfers. And so it was again yesterday as the third round of the $8 million tournament was hit by the latest of numerous thunderstorms to affect northern Florida over the past few days and force the event into its third Monday finish - if we're lucky - in six years.
PGA Tour officials have had their hands tied by the weather since the tournament got under way last Thursday, with Plans A, B, C, D and onwards torn up. If needs be, and depending on what the weather gods have in store, officials have drawn up contingency plans that will take the championship through to tomorrow to reach a 72-hole conclusion. It would be the first time in 25 years for that to happen on the US Tour.
Indeed, the sound of the weather warning siren has been as prevalent around the course as applause for birdies or eagles. Yet, when play has been possible, players have responded with as compelling a battle as this championship has produced, with 23 players within four shots of a lead jointly held by Luke Donald and Joe Durant, at 11-under-par, when last evening's play was suspended by the latest thunderstorm with the threat of tornadoes to descend on the area.
Graeme McDowell has emerged over the weekend as the main Irish challenger for an event that has produced only one European winner - Sandy Lyle in 1987 - in its 31-year history.
"I actually didn't feel too well on Friday. I felt I was coming down with flu, was all aches and pains," said McDowell.
"But I got a couple of pills from the doctor and was actually glad that there was no play on Friday. It gave me a chance to recuperate."
On Saturday, McDowell produced a round of 66 to be on seven-under-par 137 after 36 holes, which were eventually completed by the remainder of the field yesterday, at which stage Donald, Durant, Lee Westwood and Tim Herron were all co-leaders on 134.
However, in the early phase of their third rounds, Donald and Durant moved one clear of the chasing group.
McDowell had moved to eight-under for the tournament - one-under for his third round - when play was suspended. His only birdie of the round came at the 177-yard par three third, where he hit his tee-shot to the left fringe and holed a 16-footer.
Elsewhere, Padraig Harrington was one-over for his round after nine holes (dropping to three-under for the championship) and Darren Clarke was level through five holes, remaining at one-under for the tournament.
Of the so-called "Fab Four", Phil Mickelson, on seven-under, was leading the way but, generally, they were having a tough old time of it. Ernie Els was on four-under; Vijay Singh on two-under; and Tiger Woods, who barely managed to extend his sequence of made cuts to a record 140 when he survived right on the cut mark, was also on two-under.
For Donald, now up to 19th in the world rankings, this championship has provided further evidence of his emergence as a potential major winner. Always known for his accuracy, the Englishman has hit 21 of 30 fairways and made 32 of 39 greens in regulation in moving into a share of the lead with Durant.
McDowell, who was second in Bay Hill last week, which moved him into the world's top-50 and earned him the last place in the field for the Players, has also considered adding the BellSouth to his schedule.
"I have to talk to Chubby (Chandler) and decide what to do . . . but my own thinking is that I should take a few days off and go to Augusta fresh," he said.
Golf: page 10
Joe Durant, Luke Donald
Adam Scott, Tim Herron, Zach Johnson, Lee Westwood
Jay Haas, Steve Elkington, Bob Tway, Graeme McDowell.