PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Florida, May 9 (Reuters) - Three birdies in his final four holes catapulted American Chris Kirk into the lead after the third round of the Players Championship on Saturday.
But he had 24 players within four shots of his 10-under 206 total at TPC Sawgrass.
Kirk fired a four-under 68 to lead the $10 million tournament, a feat that appeared unlikely after he bogeyed the 13th and 14th holes.
But birdies on 15, 16 and 17 helped the three-time tour winner out of the logjam.
He led by one from Americans Kevin Kisner (67), Ben Martin (68) and Bill Haas (68).
Spain’s 2008 Players champion Sergio Garcia (67), Americans Justin Thomas (65), Scott Brown (69), Jerry Kelly (72), Kevin Na (72) and Canada’s David Hearn (70) were tied fifth at eight under.
“I was really happy with the way I played today. I definitely hit my driver a lot better than I have the last couple days, and then the rest of my game was still pretty sharp,” Kirk said.
World number one Rory McIlroy is just four shots off the pace after his 70 left him at six under in a tie for 17th.
He vowed to make Kirk closing out the tournament no easy feat.
“I know I need to shoot something in the mid to low 60s to realistically have a chance,” McIlroy said.
“If you're hanging around the lead especially over the closing stretch here, anything can happen with 16, 17 and 18 so if I can get into that part of the golf course and only have a couple shots back, anything can happen.”
While multiple players remained in contention, 14-time major winner Tiger Woods was not one of them, equaling his worst round at TPC Sawgrass with a 75 that left him tied for 68th.
His round included two double bogeys on par fives, the first time in his 19-year professional career he has done so.
Kirk famously finished hot during last season's FedEx Cup playoffs, winning the Deutsche Bank Championship and finishing fourth in the Tour Championship to be second in the FedEx Cup.
But the Players Championship would be the biggest win of his career.
“It's such a great feeling to be in contention on Sunday, and thankfully I've had a few so far, and hope to have a lot more,” he added.
Editing by Gene Cherry