Through 54 holes of golf ‘s most significant event outside of the majors and on one of the PGA Tour's most exacting layouts, Simpson has a seven-shot lead over New Zealander Danny Lee but it is not only the margin between he and the game’s strongest field that is so difficult to comprehend, it is the quality of the leader’s play that has everyone talking.
Simpson began today’s third round with a five-shot lead over Danny Lee, Patrick Cantlay and Charl Schwartzel but he set the tone for the day and perhaps the ultimate result with two early birdies and when he holed the almost improbable bunker at the 11th for eagle his lead was eight.
“Different feeling (today),” said Simpson. “It was more a survival feeling today - yesterday was just a bunch of birdies but pretty happy with today.
“Tomorrow I want to approach it just like I did today – I might adjust my game plan because of the golf course getting a little more firm but all in all you just try and repeat how you are feeling from day I, 2 and 3 and 4.”
“I just want to come out ready tomorrow and not feeling like I am rushed and the same routine tomorrow as was the case on Thursday,” added Simpson when asked how he would prepare for tomorrow.
Not that anything is out of the question on a golf course that can give with one hand and take a lot more with the other but with no player ever having lost a seven shot 54-hole lead in the history of the PGA Tour the odds of Simpson giving up his hard-earned lead appear slim.
The largest 54 hole lead previously in this event was in 2009 when Alex Cejka led by five into the final round before a last day 79 saw him tumble to finish 9th. The winner that year Henrik Stenson who bettered Cejka by 13 shots on that final day so while such a reversal is not impossible it is highly improbable.
The icing on the cake for Simpson as he holes out for eagle at the 11th
Lee crept closer when he birdied the 16th but missed a very makeable opportunity to move even closer at the 17th. He saved par from behind the green at the last to be alone in second position and given his form in recent times this is a week where he has boxed considerably above his weight.
Lee has played this event on three previous occasions missing the cut on two occasions and finishing 35th on the other. Given that the 27 year old has made the weekend on only four occasions in his last 13 starts for a best of 51st so this is not only a turnaround in his record at the Players Championship it is an overall form reversal for the 2008 US Amateur Champion.
While this is a great opportunity for perhaps his most significant PGA Tour finish (he does have one win to his name) he is determined to focus on the job at hand tomorrow and not be distracted.
"Today it was tougher because of the wind," said Lee. "The scoreboard doesn't affect me at all, I'm just out here playing golf and seeing what I can get. After the round, the score, that's all that matters. But when I'm out there playing, I don't really care where I'm at and where the leader's at. That is how I do it."
Dustin Johnson is two behind Lee and in 3rd place on his own while the large group at 9 under and tied for 4th includes Australia’s Jason Day who is still well enough placed for a hot final round by him and a stumble by Simpson to open the door for a miraculous result.
He and the rest of the field however will be reliant on a lot of help from Simpson if they are to stand any chance of an historic victory but the manner in which the 2012 US Open Champion is playing and thinking suggests such is highly unlikely.
The Australians are headed by Day with Marc Leishman and Adam Scott tied for 16th. More specific information on just how they performed this week can be found here.
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