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Friday, May 13, 2011
Updated: May 14, 10:33 PM ET
Long day ahead at TPC Sawgrass

By Bob Harig
ESPN.com

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- Golfers can play fast, when so motivated.

That was clearly the case in the gloaming Saturday evening, as Ian Poulter rather amusingly sprinted from tee to green in a desperate attempt to save himself some trouble on Sunday morning.

Phil Mickelson
In an effort to finish his round before play was called due to darkness, Phil Mickelson hurried to tee off on the 18th hole. He ended up making bogey, dropping to 5 under after 54 holes.

The idea was to tee off on the 18th hole before the horn sounded suspending play for the day, and the Englishman succeeded.

With the aid of Phil Mickelson and Martin Laird, who stepped to the side of the tee box, Poulter put his ball in play while playing partner Dustin Johnson was still back on the 17th green.

"If duty calls, you've got to get to 18, right?'' Poulter said. "We have a 7:45 restart in the morning, so that's a 5:30 wake-up call. That's four hours in bed. A little 300-yard sprint is worth four hours in bed.''

And that was just part of a strange day at the TPC Sawgrass.

A four-hour, 30-minute weather delay had the field playing the third round of the Players Championship until dark, and those toward the end straining to get their third rounds completed so they would not have to resume early Sunday morning.

Poulter is not in contention, so his sprint to the finish provided some levity to a long, draining day that will be even more so on Sunday for those leading the tournament.

Graeme McDowell made it through just five holes Saturday, so he's looking at a 31-hole Sunday. Same for Nick Watney. Both players are tied for the lead at 11 under par. Steve Stricker is another shot back at 10 under, along with second-round leader David Toms.

K.J. Choi and Lucas Glover are at 9 under, with Martin Kaymer -- who birdied his first four holes -- Jason Dufner, Luke Donald, Rory Sabbatini and Robert Karlsson three strokes back of the leaders at 8 under. All of them have at least 24 holes to play on Sunday.

"I know it's going to be great conditions,'' said Toms, who is seeking his first victory in five years. "Looks like obviously the golf course is a lot softer than it was before the rain, and it's going to be a long day. I just need to go out and play great. I think you'll probably see some good scoring, so I'm going to have to go out there and start making some and have a good day myself.''

The softened course meant player could fire at pins, and the result is there are 19 players within four strokes of the lead heading into what promises to be an exciting final day.

Only Hunter Mahan, who is 2 over through 5 holes, failed to take advantage of the easier conditions. He was the only player in the top 30 on the leaderboard to shoot over par for his abbreviated round, dropping out of the top 10.

That doesn't mean he can't get back into it Sunday.

"I could see someone going and shooting 62, 63,'' said McDowell, the reigning U.S. Open champion. "I think there's a low score on this golf course, depending on what the wind does. But it really has opened the field up a little bit, these conditions now.

"It's going to be exciting. This is probably one of the most exciting finishes in world golf, and to have that many guys within striking distance it's going to be a lot of fun hopefully to be part of."

One thing is likely, however. With a lot of golf, and a lot of golfers, there is unlikely to be any sprinting to the finish on Sunday.

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.