PONTE VEDRA BEACH — For all his practice swings and waggles, even purposely missing the ball so he could start over, Kevin Na pieced together an impressive bogey-free round Saturday to take the lead at the Players Championship.
Na, considered among the sport's slowest players, rolled in a 15-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole for one of only three rounds without a bogey on a tough, windy day at TPC Sawgrass. It gave him 4-under 68 for a one-shot lead over Matt Kuchar at 12-under 204.
"I know how to play under pressure," Na said. "I've won before. I've been in situations like this. I've got to take everything I've learned and do my best."
Kuchar hit into the water at the island-green 17th and had to settle for 69.
Rickie Fowler, coming off his first PGA Tour win last weekend at the Wells Fargo Championship, was three back after shooting up the leaderboard. He didn't make bogey until the last hole and had the best score of the third round, 66. He's trying to become the first player since David Duval in 1997 to win his first two tour titles in consecutive weeks.
Tiger Woods, after making a charge Friday just to make the cut, started the day six shots off the lead and never came close to getting into contention, though he gave himself plenty of chances. He had two birdies, two bogeys and a par 72 that left him 10 shots off the lead. It was hard for him to digest.
"I played well and didn't get anything out of that round," Woods said. "It was probably the most solid I've hit the golf ball all year, actually. Even though I hit a couple off line, they were just hit dead flush. I just got nothing out of the round."
Na didn't feel comfortable about anything in his round. He said he is changing his swing and still struggles with balance, making it hard for him to get comfortable over the ball.
Na was given a bad time on the 16th hole for being on the clock and taking too long to hit his shot. One more bad time and he would have become the first tour player in 20 years to be given a one-shot penalty.
He was informed of his bad time walking to the 17th green and appealed, saying his caddie's shadow was in the way. He lost the appeal. Na said he no longer was on the clock for the last two holes.
On the 18th he drilled his tee shot into the fairway after only three waggles. Then he backed off only once and hit his approach to 15 feet for his last birdie.
Na knows the world is watching — his slowness was a hot topic among golf-watchers on social media Saturday — and he realizes it makes for painful viewing.
"I know it's frustrating," he said. "It's frustrating for me. I want to pull the trigger. … It's getting better little by little. Hopefully, it will go away by the end of the year."
Kuchar, who also challenged at the Masters, is getting by with control of his driver and his emotions. Even on a poor tee shot at the 14th, the worst he could say was, "Oh, stinker!" What cost him more was a ball sinking to the bottom of the pond at the par-3 17th, but he was philosophical about it all.
"I knew (Saturday) was going to be a tricky day. … I knew there were dangers around every corner," Kuchar said.
Fowler still sees himself as an underdog, "maybe overlooked at the start of the week, won last week, maybe a little tired. I'm ready to go. … Go out (today), have some fun, give it our best shot and see where that puts us."
Matt Kuchar 68-68-69 205 -11
Rickie Fowler 72-69-66 207 -9
Ben Curtis 68-71-70 209 -7
Zach Johnson 70-66-73 209 -7
Phil Mickelson 71-71-70 212 -4
Luke Donald 72-69-72 213 -3
Tiger Woods 74-68-72 214 -2
Today on TV: Noon, Golf Channel; 2 p.m., Ch. 8
Weather: High 82, 40 percent chance of rain