What each contender needs to do (and avoid)
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- Entering this week, I wrote about how The Players Championship doesn't cater to any one type of player. We've seen recent champions in old guys (Hal Sutton) and young guys (Adam Scott), long-hitters (Davis Love III) and short hitters (Fred Funk), big names (Tiger Woods) and no-names (Craig Perks).
As we head into Sunday's round, each of those categories is well represented once again, with an eclectic leaderboard that was, as expected, eminently unpredictable at week's beginning.
Who's going to win? It's anybody's guess, but here's what each player in contention needs to do -- and avoid -- during the final round:
Sean O'Hair: 9-under 207.
Needs to ... keep hitting those fairways and greens. While this fact is insignificant trivia or a useful way of determining success here at the Players, remember that each of the last two champions -- Stephen Ames in 2006 and Fred Funk in '05 -- led the field in both driving accuracy and greens in regulation. Entering the final round, O'Hair is first in the former category (85.7 percent) and T-4 in the latter (72.2 percent).
Needs to avoid ... getting too overwhelmed at the prospect of leading such a prestigious tournament. The 24-year-old spoke earlier this week about his love for the event and how he never missed catching it on TV. "Oh, this is one of the tournaments to watch," he said. "For me, I watched every one." Thinking about the accolades and rise in stature that comes with a Players victory could be enough to unnerve the young player.
Phil Mickelson: 8-under 208.
Needs to ... continue tearing apart the par-5 holes. So far this week, Mickelson has played the four par-5s three times each and is 8-under overall. Another 3-under performance on these holes -- coupled with even-par on the other 14 -- could land him the Players trophy on Sunday.
Needs to avoid ... the rough. According to Mickelson, he made the switch to new full-time swing instructor Butch Harmon three weeks ago because "as I improved from 150 yards in and I started to win golf tournaments because of my short game and improved iron play, if I could get more balls in the fairway and give me more of those shots where I feel I've improved and I feel like I'm sharp, then I could shoot even lower scores and maybe win even more tournaments." The strategy isn't paying off yet. Despite being just one shot out of the lead, Mickelson has reached only 47.6 percent of fairways this week, ranking T-74 out of 79 players in the field.
Jeff Quinney: 7-under 209.
Needs to ... stay in "the zone," as he called it after shooting a bogey-free 8-under 64 on Saturday. "You don't think about score," Quinney said of the feeling. "At times, I was like, 'I don't know how many under par I'm at right now.' I'm just going to the next shot, going to the next hole. I just basically know I'm going to hit a good shot."
Needs to avoid ... reverting back to last week's form. Quinney shot 83-80 at the Wachovia Championship, his fourth straight missed cut after making the first eight to begin his rookie season.
Peter Lonard: 7-under 209.
Needs to ... make a few more double-eagles. (Hey, it wouldn't hurt, right?) At the risk of not relying on any more miraculous shots in the final round, he'll need to keep up the solid short game he's used for three days. "[I] made some nice up-and-downs," he said.
Needs to avoid ... falling back into the form he has shown throughout this season. Other than a third-place finish at the opposite-field Mayakoba Classic, Lonard doesn't have any results of better than T-14.
Luke Donald: 5-under 211.
Needs to ... do whatever he did on Saturday -- wake up on the same side of the bed, eat the same breakfast, leave his car in the same parking space at the course. Donald made eight birdies en route to a 7-under 65 in the third round, playing what he called "easy golf."
Needs to avoid ... another disappointing back-nine finish. He had a chance to win the Sony Open in January, but was done in by an even-par 35 on the final nine holes. He had another opportunity at the Byron Nelson Championship two weeks ago, but double-bogeyed the ninth hole and played the final nine in only 1-under. Despite owning two PGA Tour wins already, he needs to establish himself as a better closer.
Aaron Baddeley: 5-under 211.
Needs to ... continue his hot putting. Badds is T-7 in total putts and T-9 in putting average and has made five putts of 10 feet or longer during the week.
Needs to avoid ... getting suckered in at the daunting par-3 holes. For the week, he's made one birdie, one bogey and 10 pars on the shorties -- which actually isn't too bad. Baddeley ranks 141st in birdie average on par-3 holes this season, so he should consider even-par a moral victory at each one of these on Sunday.
Chris DiMarco: 5-under 211.
Needs to ... make more pars. It may sound contradictory considering all of the red numbers on the leaderboard in the third round, but DiMarco's scorecard is lit up like a Christmas tree. He's made only 32 pars through 54 holes -- ranking T-57 in the field -- but with final-round pressure and some tougher pin placements, hoarding pars won't be such a bad idea on Sunday.
Needs to avoid ... getting too bored before his tee time. "I laid around in bed until about noon and got up and took a shower," DiMarco said of his Saturday routine. "These 2:00 tee times are killers, but they're good."
Jose Coceres: 5-under 211.
Needs to ... keep flying under the radar. Through three rounds, Coceres leads the field in both total putts and putting average -- and is consequently tied for the most birdies this week (16), too. "The important thing is to take it one hole at a time and see what happens to the guys in front," he said of his Sunday strategy.
Needs to avoid ... collapsing on the final two holes. So far this week, Coceres has played the daunting 17th and 18th holes in a total of 5-over par. If he's in contention coming down the stretch on Saturday, he likely won't have any shots to spare at these holes, so he'll need to finish stronger than he has.
Carl Pettersson: 5-under 211.
Needs to ... be content with another good, consistent score. Pettersson has rounds of 70-71-70 so far, and should know that he doesn't necessarily have to go really low to win. Then again, no player has won this tournament with four rounds in the 70s since Jack Nicklaus in 1978.
Needs to avoid ... previous mistakes. Pettersson has made seven bogeys and a double this week, but they've occurred at eight different holes. That's the sign of a player who is figuring out this course and not repeating the same errors.
The field: 4-under 212 and below.
Needs to ... post a score, then sit back and watch. Included in this group are Tim Clark, Geoff Ogilvy and J.P. Hayes at 4-under, and Sergio Garcia, Jose Maria Olazabal and Cliff Kresge at 3-under. They've all seen that a 64 can be had on this course and none are that far out of contention that a similar number wouldn't put a ton of pressure on the leaders.
Needs to avoid ... bogeys. Easier said than done, of course, but anyone in this group who gets behind early will find himself struggling to make up for lost time throughout the round.
Tiger Woods: 5-over 221.
Needs to ... dream the impossible dream. For those in Tiger withdrawal on Saturday, don't expect to see Woods' face on your TV screen much during the final round, either. Here's the deal: He needs to shoot 58 ... and have none of the leaders even break par. That's not only a 15-shot swing from the third round, it'd be the best score ever in PGA Tour history. In other words, it ain't happening.
Needs to avoid ... Phil Mickelson. Hey, Tiger doesn't play many final-round early tee times, so it might be kind of awkward if he's walking into the locker room just as Mickelson is heading to the first tee.
Jason Sobel is ESPN.com's golf editor. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn3.com
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2007 Players Championship
When: Thursday-Sunday, May 10-13
Where: TPC-Sawgrass, Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.
Yardage/Par: 7,215 yards; par 72
2007 champion: Phil Mickelson
• Players Championship leaderboard
• Weekly 18: Breaking down the Players field
• Experts' predictions
• Harig: Changes rampant at Sawgrass
• Fact or Fiction: How will changes affect the event?
• Rosaforte: Perks is a one-hit wonder
• Rosaforte: Tiger playing for keeps
• Sirak: Tiger is only getting better
• On the Hot Seat: J.J. Henry
• Alternate Shot: Not the fifth major
• Weekly 18: Solid back-to-back stretch
• Sobel: Players preview