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Tiger's optimistic despite 6-shot deficit

By BOB HARIG, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 24, 2002

PONTE VEDRA BEACH -- In order to do what no man has done, Tiger Woods will need to do what he has not done this tournament: shoot in the 60s. At least.

Woods, attempting to become the first to defend his Players Championship title, shot 2-under 70 at the TPC-Sawgrass Stadium Course to trail third-round leader Carl Paulson by six.

"I'm very pleased with the round," said Woods, who won last weekend's Bay Hill Invitational. "This golf course is not easy. I'm not firing at a lot of flags. I've hung in there all week and today was no exception."

As for a comeback, Woods, who has shot 71-72-70, did not rule it out.

"I'm swinging the club well," he said. "I just need to get the ball in more positions to make birdies. When I have, I've made birdies. I just haven't done that enough."

The biggest final-day comeback at the Players Championship was five strokes by Justin Leonard in 1998.

MICKELSON MELTDOWN: Phil Mickelson could not have been having fun. A day after saying he'd rather have fun and play aggressively than go against his nature and be conservative, Mickelson suffered through a five-putt, par-4 10th hole, including four putts from 5 feet.

Mickelson missed the green with his second shot, then chipped 18 feet past the hole. He ran his par putt 5 feet by, then appeared careless. His bogey putt went 4 feet past, and his double bogey another 4 feet past. When he missed that for triple, he had another 2-footer for quadruple-bogey 8.

"What happened on 10 hurt scorewise, but I felt I held it together after that," he said. "But throwing away that many shots on one hole really hurt."

Mickelson was two shots off the lead at the time but dropped seven back after 75.

WALRUS' WOES: Craig Stadler shot 72, and when it was all over, it was a disappointing par score. Stadler, 48, made a hole-in-one at the par-3 13th, hitting a 7-iron from 185 yards. That followed birdies at the 11th and 12th. When he birdied the 15th, he was within a shot of the lead.

But Stadler, nicknamed the Walrus, faltered. He bogeyed the par-5 16th, double-bogeyed the 17th when he hit his tee shot in the water and did so again at the 18th for triple-bogey 7. He played the last three holes at 6 over.

"I was having fun," said Stadler, a 12-time tour winner who has no victories since the 1996 Nissan Open. "I haven't played this golf course very well in a long time. It was nice to get going. All of a sudden, it got up and bit me ... didn't it?

DIVOTS: The second round ended early Saturday morning, and 75 players made the cut at 2-over 146. Among the prominent players who missed were 2000 champion Hal Sutton, Vijay Singh, Davis Love, Greg Norman, John Daly and Paul Azinger, whose streak of consecutive cuts ended at 24. ... Ernie Els, who won tournaments earlier this month in Miami and Dubai, shot 69 to barely make the cut, then went out in 44, finishing with 79. He was 17 shots off the lead. ... Clearwater's John Huston shot 73 and was tied for 21st.

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