There were no winners in the third round of the $344,700 Tournament Players Championship yesterday at cold, wind swept Sawgrass, only survivors. "The course," as Larry Nelson noted, "took no prisoners."
Nelson enjoyed an eagle 3 from 100 yards out on the eighth hole and still had to settle for a three-over-par 75 one of the day's better scores. None of the leaders broke par. Jack Nicklaus stumbled home with a 73 for a one-stroke lead over Lou Graham. Those two started the day tied for first place with Ben Crenshaw, who had a 77 yesterday, which tied him for third place with Nelson, four strokes off Nicklaus.
"I shot a 76," Arnold Palmer told the world, "even-par."
Sawgrass is having that kind of effect on the field. Many players seem to be numb after three days against the elements and this long, tough course. They can't afford to cry, so they laugh.
Nicklaus' three-round total is 214, two under par.
"This was just another typical day at the TPC," Nicklaus declared. "That's now 11 in a row. I hope you all enjoyed the day as much as we did."
Nicklaus began as though he was going to bust things open, 3-3-3, to gain a four-stroke lead. "Then, at the fourth. I couldn't figure out how to play it so I decided to play it safe," he commented. "But I hit the one iron to the right, a two-iron shot rolled into the swamp, my seven-iron was held up by the wind and struck the bank (of the elevated green), I chipped six feet past the pin - and missed the putt."
Nicklaus immediately took off the white sweater he was wearing over a green sweater.
"Were you hot" he was asked.
"Yeah, but not under the sweater," he replied. "The hands were cold all day. You got tense, playing in these conditions. You have to work on your rhythm and tempo, to try to relax."
Graham, playing in the threesome ahead of Nicklaus, also took a seven on the fourth hole when he skulled his pitch from 70 yards out over the green deep into a hazard.
"That's when I started pulling off clothes," Graham said. "I was four over, soon to be five over (after five holes) and I decided I was worrying too much about the weather."
Graham recovered splendidly with a 34 on the back nine to re-enter contention as Nicklaus flip-flopped through the last five holes birdle-bogey-par-bogey-bogey-birdle. A 22-foot putt on the last green earned him the lead.
"When you have a start like I had today, it's tough to get those figures out of your mind," Gilbert said. "I didn't hit a green until the seventh, when I made an 18-foot putt. I just kept saying to myself, this is Sawgrass, nobody is going to be doing anything special; if I can just keep from falling completely apart I'll still have a chance, considering where I was when the day started (tied for first)."
Crenshaw has a history of playing poorly when paired with Nicklaus. Such was the case again today, the young Texan failing to record one birdie to counteract five bogeys.
The high point of Crenshaw's disappointing round came on the 14th hole when his drive sailed off to the left and the ball could not be found for nearby five minutes. Nicklus joined in the search. So did John Mahafey, four marshals, two television technicians and two reporters.
When a marshal finally found the ball it was buried in a thicket of pampas grass, mud and sticks.
"What would you suggest?" Crenshaw asked his caddy.
"A maxhete," a member of the group remarked.
Crenshaw jammed an iron shot out to the middle of the fairway and happily settled for a bogey.
Nicklaus and Graham will be in the same threesome today, with Crenshaw one group ahead.
"I like that idea," Graham said. "jack's a friend. He's quiet, and he doesn't complain."
At which point the 1975 Open champion paused to reconsider his remarks.
"Jack doesn't complain," Graham repeated. "then again, he doesn't have a lot to complain about, does he?"