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Rain opens scoring chances to set up great close at Sawgrass

by | CBSSports.com Senior Writer
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PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- The beady eyes were steely, penetrating.

The mottled complexion was courtesy of too many years spent outdoors.

The obviously hardened, scarred exterior could be viewed as downright advantageous, too.

Naw, that's not a description of some battle-toughed veteran trying to win the fifth-biggest title in golf, not to mention the richest first-place check on the PGA Tour, on Sunday at the Players Championship.

Those are the attributes of a butt-ugly swamp turtle that was captured by television cameras Saturday doing a theatrical dive off of the wooden bulkheads into the murky lake three feet below at TPC Sawgrass.

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Perfectly adapted for its environment or not, it might be the only critter on the property with no chance of winning on Sunday.

Thunderstorms and a 4½-hour weather delay in the third round both softened the course and broadened the field, setting the stage for a potentially spectacular finish, where the literal and figurative turtles surely won't be able to keep up.

With most of the top players on the leaderboard still in the midst of their third round because of the weather issues, a whopping 26 players are within five strokes of co-leaders Graeme McDowell and Nick Watney at 11-under, playing on a course that turned into a pin cushion.

The top duo might need track shoes, not golf spikes, to stay ahead.

No sooner did the players get back on the rain-softened course than did birdies begin diving in holes as fast as that turtle flopped into the water. With the weather calling for another chance of showers on Sunday, and overcast skies, it's debatable whether the course will dry out, meaning green-light golf and an outright assault on the record book, in theory.

Graeme McDowell walks to the first tee as the sun begins to set at TPC Sawgrass. (Getty Images)  
Graeme McDowell walks to the first tee as the sun begins to set at TPC Sawgrass. (Getty Images)  
"I could see someone going and shooting 62, 63 tomorrow," said McDowell, the reigning U.S. Open champion. "It really has opened the field up a little bit, these conditions now."

Even before the rain, players were posting some impressive numbers, including Sweden's Peter Hanson, who shot 66 with a bogey on the 18th. After the delay, Martin Kaymer birdied his first four holes. Veteran Charlie Wi also reeled off a four-birdie streak and said he had never seen the course lie down this easily.

"You could definitely be more aggressive," Wi said. "I mean, after the rain, the ball started backing up and you never see that here."

No backing up will be tolerated atop the board, where the scoring ought to be downright entertaining. The greens were so soft, Kaymer, the world No. 2, birdied his four opening holes from a combined distance of six feet.

Play will resume at 7:45 a.m. ET on Sunday. The top four on the leaderboard had only completed five holes when play was suspended at 8:05 because of darkness, so the guy with the hottest hand will have plenty of opportunities to stomp on the gas pedal.

It's been six years since rains hammered the course to such a degree, and the first time since the tournament was moved back from March to May. Typically, since the event has been moved to warmer May, the weekends have been more of a survival test as the greens turned to the color and consistency of pizza crust on the weekends as the tour stopped watering them and speeds got downright dangerous.

Now it's like somebody took the governor off the motor.

"There was some good scoring this morning even before the delay," McDowell said. "It just shows you what can be done on this golf course. It's not long by modern standards and when you start attacking some pins you can make some scores."

There's some serious firepower behind he and Watney, for sure. Steve Stricker and David Toms are a shot back, while players like Lucas Glover, Luke Donald, Rory Sabbatini and Kaymer are all within three strokes or closer. The last four all have won titles this season already.

In the abstract, if it plays out like some expect, that fateful three-hole stretch on the Sawgrass back nine has never seemed more potentially thrilling.

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

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