Never Before On Top After 54 Holes
Goydos is the only player in the field with all three rounds under-par.
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. (AP) -- Paul Goydos doesn't have a Q-rating, an endorsement deal or a top-30 finish in the last 16 months. What he does have for the first time in his career is a 54-hole lead -- in The Players Championship, no less.
Seemingly immune to the mounting pressure and a course getting tougher by the day, Goydos seized the lead Saturday with a 10-foot birdie on the island-green 17th and a great escape on the closing hole for a 2-under 70 and a one-shot lead over Kenny Perry.
As well as he played, his self-deprecating humor was even better.
Asked if he had ever had a 54-hole lead on the PGA Tour, Goydos shook his head.
"But I've only been on tour for 16 years," he said.
He was at 7-under 209, the highest score to lead at TPC Sawgrass since 1999.
Perry saved par with a nifty wedge on the 18th hole for a 72 that put him at 210 and in the final group Sunday. Sergio Garcia hit the ball as well as anyone for the second straight day, and got nothing in return.
Garcia was tied for the lead standing on the 17th tee, but he three-putted from just outside 10 feet, then hit into the rough on the 18th and closed with another bogey for a 73, leaving him three shots behind.
Through three rounds, Goydos has taken 78 putts, which is 18 fewer than Garcia.
"I'm a little bit disappointed because I feel like the last two days, I show the highest score I could shoot," Garcia said. "And I still have a chance. With everything that has happened, I'm still there."
The numbers are shrinking, with only 13 players remaining under par, just three of those with a major to their credit.
Phil Mickelson, trying to become the first repeat champion in the 35-year history of this tournament, was making a move up the leaderboard until he knocked his tee shot into the water on the 14th and took double bogey. He still wound up with a 71 and was in the group at 2-under 214, five shots behind and very much in the game.
Even Goydos would concede that.
"I'm pretty sure Mickelson is not going, 'Well, I'm playing for second,'" he said.
Also five shots behind was 50-year-old Bernhard Langer, whose two victories this year have come on the Champions Tour. A day after knocking in a 60-foot birdie on the island green, Langer three-putted for bogey and finished with a 75.
The group at 1-under 215 included former British Open champion Tom Lehman (69) and Boo Weekley.
But it all starts with Goydos, a former substitute teacher in Long Beach, Calif., a single father of two teenage girls, a self-described journeyman and a golfer who has as much perspective, honesty and dry humor as anyone around.
His victory in the 2007 Sony Open was his first in nearly 11 years, and Goydos noted that Tiger Woods had won nearly 60 times between his two victories. When he next saw Woods, he pleaded with him to quickly win another 60 so Goydos could win again.
He has gone 30 tournaments since winning last year in Hawaii with no result better than a tie for 25th, and that was only last week at the Wachovia Championship.
"I'm not proud of that fact, but it's not through lack of effort," he said. "I think I'm a better player than I've ever been. That said, so is everybody else who plays out here, which is the problem."
A victory Sunday at TPC Sawgrass would be worth $1.71 million, more than Goydos has made in any single season on the PGA Tour. That didn't faze the 43-year-old Goydos, either.
"When I won in Hawaii, the same thing happened," he said. "I've done it before."
And he has been around long enough to know how much can change over the final 18 holes, especially on this course with a tenuous lead.
Perry, 47, made the only birdie among 74 players on the 14th hole and had 14 pars, perhaps the most meaningful one on the 18th. After driving into the rough and laying up short, he hit sand wedge to 10 feet and made the putt to get into the last group.
"There's no other game plan -- survival," Perry said.
So many others couldn't last.
Fred Couples didn't made a birdie until the 11th hole and shot 77, taking himself out of the tournament. Ernie Els was 4 over through his first four holes and played hard to return a 74, but he was still eight shots behind.
Anthony Kim appeared to finally run out of gas after winning the Wachovia Championship last week. He was two shots out of the lead until running off four straight bogeys, then hitting into the water on the final two holes for a triple bogey-double bogey finish and a 79.
Goydos doesn't have an endorsement deal with his clubs, and lost a corporate deal with Pep Boys. Goydos showed up at Sawgrass with a cap he bought at an airport -- the Long Beach State baseball team, with the nickname "Dirtbags" written on the bill.
It's a perfect fit for Goydos, who plods along.
He knocked in a pair of 18-foot birdie putts early in his round -- from about the same distance that Garcia missed all day -- but was particularly impressive following his mistakes. A three-putt bogey on the seventh was followed by a 5-foot birdie on the 219-yard eight. A bogey with a wedge in his hand on the ninth was followed by a 20-foot birdie on the 10th.
"Sergio played pretty well," Goydos said. "I'm sure he was looking at me and kind of wanting to throw up."
That might have been the case at the 17th, where Garcia hit a terrific sand wedge to just outside 10 feet and walk off with bogey, while Goydos hit it just inside him and made the bending putt.