Holmes, Stanley, use birdies at No. 17 to share Players Championship lead

The 17th hole at the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass has broken hearts and dreams at The Players Championship.


For J.B. Holmes and Kyle Stanley, it was the path to the final twosome in Sunday’s final round.

Holmes and Stanley stuffed their tee shots to close range at the Island Green to set up birdie putts on Saturday, and went on to salvage pars from tough positions at the par-4 18th to finish at 9-under-par 207. That was one shot ahead of Louis Ooosthuizen of South Africa and two clear of Si Woo Kim of South Korea after a wild, often bizarre Players third round that may find its equal during a final round in which high wind from an entirely opposite direction is in the forecast.

Holmes (70) hit his tee shot at No. 17 to within 5 feet and Stanley (72) followed with an even closer strike, to less than 3 feet. For two players known more for their distance off the tee than precision, they were clutch wedge shots under difficult circumstances.

Holmes then sprayed his tee shot at the last to the right, gouged a 6-iron from 194 yards onto the green, and two-putted from 50 feet for par — the last stroke from 7 feet away. Stanley followed by saving par from behind the green with a 5-foot putt.

Oothuizen, who shared the 36-hole lead with Stanley, was 2-over for the day through 13 holes but managed to birdie the 16th and par his final two to stay close.

It ended a day in which PGA Tour officials nervously eyed a storm front coming from the west all day that somehow skirted the Ponte Vedra area and never interrupted play. But the front produced wind that sent the scoring average up nearly a full stroke from the second round to 74.037, and it also will result in a turn from southwest wind to northeast for the final round, which will give players a breeze normally associated with the former March date.

Either way, more mayhem should ensue after a PGA Tour season-high 46 scores of triple bogey or higher have already been posted, with one round remaining.

“This golf course has got some quirks to it and the wind swirls,” said Holmes, a four-time PGA Tour winner who has mixed four missed cuts and a tie for 51st with finishes of a tie for sixth and 13th at The Players in the past seven years. “Sometimes you’ve just got to get lucky. It’s a lot of guessing.”

Holmes guessed mostly right. He had only one bogey, at the par-4 14th hole, which certainly was no disgrace considering it was the most difficult on the course in the third round, and followed 10 pars in a row to pounce on the reachable 11th and 12th holes for his first two birdies of the day.

Holmes had early troubles off the tee. He missed four fairways in a row at one point, with all of his tee shots landing in bunkers.

At one point, a fan yelled, “you’re in the sand more than David Hasselhoff,” referring to the star of the “Baywatch” TV series about lifeguards.

“I didn’t catch that one,” said the former University of Kentucky star who was such a golf prodigy that he played on his high school golf team when he was in the third grade. “Made par, though.”

That he did, on every hole in which he missed a fairway except the 14th.

Stanley, a native of Gig Harbor, Wash., who wound up playing college golf at Clemson, had an uphill climb after he bogeyed three of his first four holes. He righted the ship with one of only three birdies at the par-3 eighth hole, sinking an 18-foot putt after crushing a 4-iron from 247 yards out.

“It was a pretty solid 4,” said Stanley, competing in only his fourth Players, and the first since 2014.

If major championship pedigrees mean anything, then Oosthuizen and 2008 Players champion Sergio Garcia (67, four shots back) may have the upper hand.