PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — Kevin Na is slow to pull the trigger, and quick to make fun of himself.
In what made for painful viewing Saturday in The Players Championship – for fans at the TPC Sawgrass and those watching from home – Na took hundreds of waggles as he set up over the ball, backed off the shot if he didn’t feel comfortable and a couple of times purposely missed so he could start over.
The only number that mattered was 4-under-par 68, one of only three bogey-free rounds on a dangerous course. Backing off only once in the 18th fairway, he hit his approach to 15 feet and made it for birdie and took a one-shot lead over Matt Kuchar (69) going into the final round.
“There’s so much on the line that I just have to sometimes back off,” Na said. “Or I’ll force myself to take it back, and on the way down I’ll pull up and go over the top (of the ball). As ugly as it is, and as painful as it is, believe me, it’s really tough for me. And I’m trying.”
Kuchar had the lead until hitting wedge into the water at the island-green 17th and escaping with bogey, and he saved par from the rough-
covered moguls to the right of the 18th green. He had one stretch of eight holes without a par, making six birdies and a bogey.
Rickie Fowler, coming off his first PGA Tour win last week at Quail Hollow, had the best score of the third round with 66 and was two shots behind.
Na, playing with Zach Johnson, was on the clock throughout the back nine, and he was given a bad time on the 16th hole. He made an unsuccessful appeal, claiming he went over the allotted time because his caddie’s shadow was in the way.
Na is not oblivious to how bad it looks, how slow he plays or the reaction from all corners.
“Trust me, I get ripped a lot,” he said. “I know TV, Twitter and fans are tired of me backing off. I understand people being frustrated with me backing off, but all I can tell you guys is honestly, I’m trying.”