Seven notable third-round Players Championship stats from Golf World contributing writer Brett Avery, who compiles the Rank and File statistical sections for the magazine's coverage of the major championships and other significant events:
1. Two men who traditionally play their best in the third round, Matt Kuchar and Rickie Fowler, excelled Saturday and put themselves in position to win the Players Championship. Kuchar's three-under-par 69 bore everything from a 2 to a 6 and only a bogey at the 17th, where his tee ball splashed short of the island green, cost him a share of the lead at 12-under-par 204 with Kevin Na. Kuchar has posted his best scoring average in the third round in nine of his 11 PGA Tour seasons. Fowler posted his third consecutive sub-70 third round, a day's-best 66. It followed his 69 at New Orleans (finished T10) and a 67 last week at Wells Fargo (won). It was the first time Fowler's shot in the 60s in the third round of three consecutive official tour starts since May and June in 2010 (Colonial, 64, T-38; Memorial, 69, second; Travelers, 69, T-13). If their 2012 form holds for Kuchar and Fowler, they may struggle in the fourth round, their worst scoring day this season. Kuchar came into this week ranked 23rd on Sunday (70.25) while Fowler stands 63rd (71.11). Leader Na? The last round is statistically his strongest, although he ranks 47th at 70.78.
2. Kuchar and Na remain the only players eligible to end one of the longest-standing droughts in Players history: No player has posted four rounds in the 60s since Steve Elkington won in 1997 (66-69-68-69). Kuchar (68-68-69) has made five cuts in eight starts at Sawgrass but Saturday was only his second weekend score in the 60s (68, fourth round in '09). Na (67-69-67) put up his first weekend sub-70 in five tries. Elkington is joined in the all-sub-60s club at Sawgrass by the three top finishers in 1994: Greg Norman (63-67-67-67), Fuzzy Zoeller (65-67-68-67) and Jeff Maggert (65-69-69-68).
__ 3.__ There's an outside chance the tournament record at TPC Sawgrass for most birdies could be tied or broken. It was set by Fuzzy Zoeller, who made 26 in 1994 while finishing four strokes behind Greg Norman. Na (20), Fowler (19) and Kuchar (18) have an outside chance -- although what's most interesting is that they are among the less-likely candidates in a field of 144 of the world's best. Na went into the week tied for 34th among PGA Tour players this year in total birdies (151), while Fowler stands T-39 (149) and Kuchar T-93 (122). Season leader Cameron Tringale (180) has made only a dozen at the Stadium Course, which gives him a share of 21st for the week.
4. Another record that's shown surprising durability went untouched in the third round despite some receptive hole locations at the bases of feeder slopes. There have been 28 holes-in-one in the tournament's 39-year history and 24 at TPC Sawgrass. But there has not been a 1 since Robert Garrigus did it at the 13th hole during the second round in 2008. Back-of-the-envelope calculations peg the succeeding fields at 0-for-8,165. According to Golf Digest calculations, the odds of a tour pro making an ace is 3,000-to-1, which means the Players is long overdue.
5. The top five players entering the final round have United States flags beside their names on the scoreboards (Na was born in Korea and his family moved to the States when he was age 8). That offers the prospect of a first Players champ from the host nation since Phil Mickelson in 2007 and only the third since 2004. The last time the top two finishers were from the U.S. was 2000 (Hal Sutton, Tiger Woods). The last time the U.S. swept at least the top three was 1998 (Justin Leonard, Glen Day, Tom Lehman, Mark Calcavecchia). Remember 1990? That year the U.S. swept the top eight (Jodie Mudd, Calcavecchia, Steve Jones, Tom Purtzer, Billy Ray Brown, Tom Kite, Hale Irwin and Ken Green).
6. Once again the Players will crown a player outside the top 10 in the world ranking. No. 8 Martin Kaymer and No. 10 Mickelson are T-14 at four under, eight shots behind Na and needing a virtual miracle to contend. The Players has crowned only two top-10 champs since 2004 (No. 3 Mickelson in '07, No. 9 Henrik Stenson in '09). Four of the last eight winners have come from outside the top 30. That list could grow: Na is ranked 56th, Ben Curtis 116th and Zach Johnson 32nd. To round out the contenders, Kuchar is 16th and Fowler 24th. PS: Only one player outside the top 100 has won the Players. Craig Perks was 203rd before his '02 shocker raised him to 64th.
7. The third-round scoring average of 72.625 marked the fifth time in the last decade that the field could not cumulatively break par Saturday, in large part thanks to stiff breezes through much of the day. The 54-hole cumulative is 72.530, which puts the field on track for the highest average since 2008 (74.286).
-- Brett Avery