PONTE VEDRA BEACH — One round away from one of the biggest wins of his career, Lee Westwood knows what to expect on the final day of the Players Championship.
Not only because of his 17 years as a pro and his 30 victories worldwide, or his 54-hole lead last month at the Masters. Saturday at TPC Sawgrass was enough of a reminder.
Westwood watched a two-shot lead turn into a two-shot deficit. Over the final hour, Robert Allenby picked up three shots on the last three holes, and Heath Slocum dropped four shots on the last six.
The day ended with Westwood hitting a daring shot with a 6-iron through a gap in the trees for par on the 18th hole for 2-under 70 to finish the third round with a one-shot lead, same as he started it. He has more company on the leaderboard now — Masters champion Phil Mickelson included — but the course is as significant as the names behind him.
"There was no real scope for thinking about anything else other than what I was doing," Westwood said. "It's that kind of golf course. If you play well, birdies are available. If you don't hit good shots, they penalize you. That's what good golf courses do to you."
This day, this course did both.
Mickelson suddenly was back in the picture, along with that No. 1 world ranking, because of his 66 that put him five shots behind. Tiger Woods was not, courtesy of a bogey-bogey finish for 71 that put him 10 shots behind. Tampa's Ruji Imada, who began the day one shot behind Westwood, shot 4-over 76 and fell seven shots behind Westwood, who was at 14-under 202.
U.S. Open champion Lucas Glover, the only player in the top 10 with a major, didn't make a birdie until the ninth hole in his round of 69. He was in second at 12-under 204, with Torrey Pines winner Ben Crane (68) and Francesco Molinari (71).
"The golf course changed a lot. It got really firm (Saturday) afternoon," Westwood said. "I thought I played well, gave myself a lot of chances, missed a couple, but all in all, I was pleased with the way I played."
Mickelson began the day nine shots out of the lead, same as Woods. They went opposite directions, however. Mickelson didn't make a bogey until the final hole to put himself back into the picture.
"I feel like things started to click a little bit (Saturday), and I think I've got one more low round in me," he said. "I just hope that it will be enough, that I'll be within striking distance."
To reach No. 1 for the first time in his career, Mickelson has to win and have Woods finish out of the top five. Woods was tied for 45th after the third round.
Seconds after getting an autograph from Mickelson, a young boy decided to talk a little trash to Woods.
As Woods walked by after his round, the kid yelled, "Tiger, say so long to No. 1. Kiss it goodbye."
Woods showed no reaction. He was more concerned with getting back on track.
"I hit more good shots (Saturday) than I have all week," Woods said. "So you don't turn this thing around overnight and then just go out there and play great golf. This is a process, especially since I haven't played at all. I just need more rounds."
Allenby was five shots behind when he walked off the 13th tee. He made up ground quickly with a 6-iron to about 12 feet on the par-5 16th for eagle, then a 12-foot birdie on the island-green 17th that curled into the side of the cup. He shot 67 to get in the final group.
"That's the thing," Allenby said. "You don't know what's going to happen out there. All you can do is just play your own golf. But I knew I had to push it a little bit just to try to get within reach.
"Obviously, the leaderboard changed a couple of times through the back nine. Luckily for me, I did well on the finishing holes."
Slocum ran off three birdies in four holes around the turn to reach 15 under until a three-putt from the fringe below a steep ridge on the 13th changed everything. He bogeyed the 15th, then dumped his tee shot into the water on 17 for double bogey. After all that, he shot 72.
His finish put him at 11-under 205, tied with Tim Clark (66), Charley Hoffman (69) and Chris Stroud (66).
The splash of the day came from Kevin Stadler on the par-4 18th after he pulled his tee shot into the water, did the same thing with his next shot, then tossed his 3-wood so far into the lagoon that it wasn't retrievable. "We went nuts," onlooker Jason Thomas of Jacksonville said of the crowd's reaction. "It was awesome." Stadler eventually finished with quintuple-bogey 9.
European: Fredrik Andersson Hed shot 9-under 63 to move to 17-under 199 for a six-stroke lead after the third round of the Italian Open at Turin. Italian 17-year-old phenom Matteo Manassero, making his pro debut, shot par and was at 4 under.