Simpson builds Players lead to seven strokes

Webb Simpson seems to be playing a different course than the rest of the field in the 45th Players Championship.

Simpson followed a course-record-tying 63 with a 4-under-par 68 to take a seven-stroke lead over Danny Lee of New Zealand heading to the final round on the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.

“I’m pretty satisfied with the way I played,” said Simpson, who won the 2012 U.S. Open at the Olympic Club in San Francisco, but claimed the last of his four PGA Tour victories in the 2013 Shriners Hospitals for Children Open. “I was just going along pretty nicely. I played 17 and 18 pretty well after hitting into the water on 17 yesterday, and that was nice (par) putt I made on 18.

“It can be hard to play with a big lead, but all I wanted to do was keep hitting good shots and good putts. … I’ve holed out a few times from off the green and made some long putts. To get that score, you have to do that.

“On Sunday, you’ve got to give the course a little more respect.”

Simpson holed a bunker shot from 33 yards on the 11th hole on his way to a 54-hole total of 19-under 197 to tie Greg Norman’s tournament record set in 1994.

Lee birdied the 11th and 16th holes in a bogey-free 70, while top-ranked Dustin Johnson birdied three of the last six holes to post a 69 and is nine shots back in third.

Charl Schwartzel of South Africa, the 2011 Masters champion, struggled playing in the final twosome alongside Simpson, but holed a five-foot birdie putt on at No. 18 to cap a 73 and is 10 shots back in a big tie for fourth

Seventh-ranked Jason Day of Australia of Australia totaled 71 and also is in that tie for fourth with Xander Schauffele of La Jolla and San Diego State, who holed out from 32 feet for an eagle at No. 11 in another 71; Jason Dufner, who had five birdies on the back nine of a 66, and Jimmy Walker, who had six birdies in a 70.

Two-time Players champion Tiger Woods birdied eight of the first 12 holes en route to a 65 and is 11 shots back in a tie for ninth with fourth-ranked Jordan Spieth, who also had a 65, Tommy Fleetwood (68) of England Matt Kuchar (71), Ian Poulter (69) of England, Harold Varner III (72) and Patrick Cantlay of Los Alamitos and UCLA, who stumbled to a 74.

Tenth-ranked Patrick Reed is tied for 26th after a 70, second-ranked Justin Thomas shot 68 and is tied for 33rd, fifth-ranked Justin Rose of England totaled 73 and is in a tie for 55th that includes defending champion Si Woo Kim of South Korea, who finished at 74, while third-ranked Jon Rahm of Spain is 69th after a 77.

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