Players' contenders play musical chairs

Updated: March 25, 2006, 8:11 PM ET
By Jason Sobel | ESPN.com

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- Good news, golf fans. There were zero -- we repeat -- zero injuries sustained during the third round of The Players Championship. This despite top players consistently falling from atop the leaderboard, landing with a thud before dusting themselves off and attempting to scale such heights again.

Third-Round Lead Changes
Time, Player(s), Score

1:40, Furyk, -8
1:49, Furyk/Ames, -8
2:09, Ames, -8
2:33, Ames/Singh, -8
2:51, Singh, -8
3:02, Singh/Weir/Garcia, -7
3:06, Singh/Weir/Garcia/Goosen, -7
3:13, Garcia, -8
3:47, Garcia/Stenson, -8
3:58, Garcia/Stenson/Oberholser, -8
4:07, Garcia, -9
4:39, Garcia/Oberholser/Ames/Stenson, -8
4:50, Garcia/Oberholser/Ames, -8
4:53, Garcia/Oberholser, -8
4:53, Oberholser, -8
5:09, Oberholser/Ames, -8
5:15, Ames, -8
5:28, Ames/Garcia, -8
5:41, Ames/Garcia/Singh, -8
5:46, Ames, -9

It became a familiar refrain throughout the day, one player after another staking claim to the lead only to lose it soon thereafter. In all, eight different players held or shared the lead in the PGA Tour's version of musical chairs.

Of course, there were plenty of bruised egos. (Note to all PGA Tour "mental gurus" out there: Cancel your Saturday night plans; there are going to be a few phone calls coming your way.) And scorecards, for the most part, were left beaten and withered. But when the dust settled and the picture came into focus with Stephen Ames claiming a one-stroke lead, one major storyline became apparent: This day wasn't for the faint of heart.

"Some of the guys that were ... up there for a while, I felt all of a sudden they were gone," said Sergio Garcia, who shot a 2-under 70 to trail Ames by one. "That's what can happen on this course.

"It always keeps you on your toes, so that's good."

In the spirit of the weekend's other sports extravaganza, call Saturday's leaders the Elite Eight. Count 'em with us:

One: Ames. The front-runner entering the final round, he played the frightful final two holes in even-par. This was better than treading water on this day.

Two: Garcia. The leader during the early part of his back nine is relying on a new left-hand-low putting style that has shored up some recent deficiencies.

Three: Vijay Singh. Tied with Garcia at one back, Singh grinded when he needed to, making two birdies and no bogeys over his final 11 holes.

Four: Mike Weir. The only player in the top-10 to post a round in the 60s, Weir darted from T-27 to T-4 when it was all said and done.

Five: Henrik Stenson. Buoyed by an ace on the 13th hole -- his first ever in tournament competition -- Stenson led before a bogey-bogey finish.

Six: Retief Goosen. If you strayed from the couch between 3:06 and 3:13 p.m. ET, you missed Goosen carving a four-way share of the lead.

Seven: Jim Furyk. He began the day as the leader by one stroke, but by the time he left the second green with a double-bogey, Furyk was playing catch-up the rest of the day.

Eight: Arron Oberholser. The most precipitous fall from the leaderboard, Oberholser shared the top spot through 16 holes, but knocked his ball into the water on both 17 and 18, playing the final two holes in 5-over.

Toss in fellow contenders Carl Pettersson, Tom Pernice Jr., John Rollins and Bo Van Pelt -- none of whom held the lead, though each is in the top-10 entering Sunday -- and it's evident that anything may happen in what could prove to be a wet and wild final round.

"There's obviously some really good players ... some guys that are veteran players, and obviously I expect them to play well [Sunday]," said Furyk, who trails Ames by four after a third-round 75. "But it's nice to only have four or five guys ahead of you and be within earshot."

Ames' lead notwithstanding, there was one true champion during Saturday's third round that never saw the leaderboard, though certainly made its presence felt. The TPC-Sawgrass Stadium Course, in tandem with blustery winds, boasted slicker-than-usual greens and thick rough -- a preview of what to expect when this tournament moves to May starting next year.

It has also given a forecast for Sunday's final round. Expect the unexpected, and don't be surprised to see a gaggle of players still vying for the title on the final few holes.

Oh, and those tumbles from atop the leaderboard? They're going to hurt a lot more.

Jason Sobel is ESPN.com's golf editor. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn3.com

Jason Sobel | email

Golf Editor, ESPN.com
Jason Sobel, who joined ESPN in 1997, earned four Sports Emmy awards as a member of ESPN's Studio Production department. He became ESPN.com's golf editor in July 2004.

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