Jason Day overcomes 'nasty' conditions to maintain lead
WORLD number one Jason Day overcame conditions described as "nasty" and "borderline unfair" to maintain his four-shot lead heading into the final round of the Players Championship.
Day, who had established a 36-hole scoring record when the delayed second round was completed at Sawgrass on Saturday, four-putted the sixth hole in the third round and also double-bogeyed the eighth to see his lead cut to a single shot. But the 28-year-old responded by playing the last 10 holes in three under par to record a 73 and finish 14 under par on a day when the firm, lightning fast greens resulted in a scoring average of 76.5.
Veteran American Ken Duke defied the conditions to card a brilliant 65 and join Japan's Hideki Matsuyama and Germany's Alex Cejka in second place on 10 under, Matsuyama returning a 67 and Cejka a level-par 72.
Italy's Francesco Molinari was a shot further back after matching Cejka's score, but Offaly man Shane Lowry - who was second at halfway - slumped to a 78 to lie nine shots off the pace alongside world number three Rory McIlroy.
McIlroy, who had four three-putts and also double-bogeyed the 15th in his 75, felt the combination of pin positions and fast greens made conditions "borderline unfair," telling reporters: "It's like a US Open out there... you can't even ground your club on the greens."
American Matt Kuchar, who was a shot ahead of McIlroy after a 72, said: "It was nasty. It was so difficult. Overnight they made a drastic change; it went from maybe 11 on the stimpmeter to close to 14 and it felt like there was no friction. It was hard to keep the putter still on the green."
After watching Ian Poulter three-putt the 12th, Sky Sports commentator Butch Harmon said: "Okay I'll say it - these greens are out of control now. They've let them get away from themselves I think.
"I will tell you what, they did not like that 15 under leading did they? They have taken care of that quickly with this course set up. I would like to be a fly on the wall in that locker-room when these players get in there. It's not going to sound good."
The loudest complaints might come from Spain's Sergio Garcia after he six-putted from 70 feet on the fifth, the 2008 champion racing his birdie attempt eight feet past and needing five more attempts to find the bottom of the cup for a quadruple-bogey eight.
Kevin Chappell added his voice to the criticism after covering the front nine in 31 and the back nine in 39, saying: "I don't know if someone was trying to prove a point, but point taken. The golf course is difficult and probably got a little out of hand."
However, Duke had no such complaints after firing six birdies in his last seven holes to surge into contention, the 47-year-old revealing he had simply adjusted to the pace of the greens after realising how quick they were.
Asked if the conditions were unfair, Duke said: "I don't think that. A lot of Open Championships and US Opens are set up a lot harder than this. We just had some wind and the greens firmed up a little bit and got speedy."
Day echoed the sentiments of those unhappy with the course and told reporters after completing his round that he remains concerned about similar conditions for the final round: "That would just ruin everything," he said.
"That won't make it fun. We were out there for nearly six hours today trying to play 18 holes. They made the course pretty much nearly unplayable. If they do make it like that, then I'm just going to have to grind my hardest to win the tournament, and I'm okay with that.
"I won't stop until it's done, and I can rest after that."