PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — Tiger Woods was surrounded by four rows of fans who stood shoulder-to-shoulder, curious to see how he was going to escape from the trees on the second hole at The Players Championship. Cheers erupted when he pulled out a 5-wood, a risky shot off the pine straw through a 15-foot gap of pines.
Woods said he didn’t hear Sergio Garcia hit his shot from the fairway. He didn’t see Garcia stare in his direction.
But he heard Garcia on television during a storm delay.
The Spaniard said the burst of cheers disrupted his swing, and he suggested that Woods was the instigator by thinking only of himself.
“Not real surprising that he’s complaining about something,” Woods said.
“That’s fine,” Garcia said when told of Woods’ comments. “At least I’m true to myself. I know what I’m doing, and he can do whatever he wants.”
A storm was brewing Saturday at Sawgrass even before the real storms rolled in and caused a two-hour delay, keeping eight players from finishing their round. And in the midst of the latest chapter in this Woods-Garcia rift, Swedish rookie David Lingmerth quietly went about his business and wound up atop the leaderboard.
Lingmerth finished a wild day with an 8-foot eagle putt on the par-5 16th and a 10-foot birdie on the island-green 17th to reach 12-under par when the third round was suspended because of darkness.
He was two shots ahead of three players who have won The Players Championship — Woods, Garcia and Henrik Stenson.
“I’m aware of where they’re at,” Lingmerth said. “I try not to look at the leaderboard when I’m out there. I’m just trying to do my thing. But having those guys behind me, I know they’re going to try to hunt me down, of course. But I’m just going to try to forget about all that and just try to do my thing.”
That starts just after sunrise. Eight players — including the top four — had to return Sunday morning to complete the third round. Woods and Garcia were on the 15th hole.
The best action Saturday was during the rain delay when Garcia was asked about the par-5 second hole.
“Well, obviously Tiger was on the left and it was my shot to hit,” Garcia said. “He moved all of the crowd that he needed to move. I waited for that. I wouldn’t say that he didn’t see that I was ready, but you do have a feel when the other guy is going to hit and right as I was in the top of the backswing, I think he must have pulled like a 5-wood or a 3-wood and obviously everybody started screaming. So that didn’t help very much.”
Woods said Garcia didn’t have his facts straight.
“The marshals, they told me he already hit, so I pulled a club and was getting ready to play my shot,” Woods said.
Asked if they talked it over when play resumed, Woods replied, “We didn’t do a lot of talking.”
Garcia wound up making a bogey on the second hole to lose the one-shot lead he had at the start of the round. Woods pulled off his shot, and then blasted out of the bunker to about 10 feet and made birdie to take the lead.
When storm clouds moved in, Garcia already hit a tough shot onto the green at No. 7, and Woods had to mark his ball in the fairway when the siren sounded to stop play. When they resumed, Wood hit onto the seventh green, and Garcia putted before Woods got there.
They were on the 15th hole when play was stopped because of darkness. Woods gave a brief TV interview, and Garcia came over to shake his hand.
Garcia didn’t back away from his TV interview.
“It happens to me when I’m in Spain,” he said of the large crowds. “Obviously, it happens to him everywhere he goes. He gets a lot of people following, and I think you have to be very careful because there’s another guy playing. Sometimes you have to pay attention to what’s going on because if the other guy’s hitting and you do something when you’re in the crowd, the crowd is going to respond and it’s going to affect the other player.
“I think sometimes you have to be a bit more careful.”
Meanwhile, The Players Championship was shaping up to be quite a finish.
Lingmerth, who began his rookie season by losing in a playoff at the Humana Challenge, poured in par putts along the back nine to stay around the leaders, and then he raced by them with his eagle-birdie finish. He returns Sunday to play the 18th hole.
Stenson was the first to reach 12 under when he made a 20-foot birdie putt at the par-5 ninth, but what appeared to be a shoo-in birdie on the par-5 11th turned into a bogey when his second shot when just long and down a steep slope.
It took him two chips to reach the green and he made bogey, and Stenson made another bogey on the 15th.
Garcia made par from deep in the woods and bogey from the middle of the fairway. He came close to a hole-in-one on the 13th hole, and went bunker-to-bunker for bogey on the 14th hole. Woods was far steadier, though certainly not spectacular. That birdie he made on No. 2 was his only one of the day.
Jeff Maggert, who also had a share of the lead at one point early in the day, bogeyed the last hole for a 66 and was the clubhouse leader at 9-under 207. Casey Wittenberg and Ryan Palmer also were at 9-under and still had to finish their rounds.
Lee Westwood whiffed a shot on his opening hole then his club nicked a pine tree on his downswing and the club went nearly a foot past the ball, leading to double bogey. Westwood was 6-under with three holes to play.
Hunter Mahan’s tee shot on the 15th hole got stuck high up in a tree, leading to double bogey, but then he rolled in an eagle putt from off the 16th green. He three-putted the 17th green for bogey and wound up with a 71, putting him at 8-under 208 with David Lynn of England, who had a 68. Lynn lost in a playoff last week at Quail Hollow.
Through all that, Woods and Garcia generated the biggest buzz.
The Woods-Garcia relationship already was frosty. In Tom Callahan’s book on Woods, “His Father’s Son,” he writes about the time Woods saw Garcia in the clubhouse watching a TV monitor and trying to cheer a player’s putt out of the hole.
Woods was said to be put off when Garcia celebrated wildly after winning a Monday night “Battle at Bighorn” exhibition in 2000. During the 2002 U.S. Open at Bethpage Black, which Woods won wire-to-wire, Garcia complained that play should have been stopped in the second round because of the rain.
“If Tiger Woods would have been out there, it would have been called,” Garcia said that day.
Saturday was the sixth time Woods and Garcia have played together in the final group on the weekend. Woods went on to win the previous five tournaments.
There is plenty of work left at Sawgrass. And if there is no change on the leaderboard Sunday morning, Woods and Garcia get to play together again.