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Ames leads by one at treacherous Sawgrass

Written by: Staff

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Florida, Mar 26 (Reuters) Canada's Stephen Ames recovered from an early double-bogey to edge one shot clear in treacherous, gusting winds at the Players Championship.

Ames, who three-putted from 14 feet at the par-four fifth, fired a two-under-par 70 in the third round at the TPC at Sawgrass to finish at nine-under 207 yesterday.

That left him a stroke in front of world number two Vijay Singh and sixth-ranked Sergio Garcia, who carded matching 70s playing together in the day's penultimate pairing.

''Today was a good day, a good ball-striking day,'' the 41-year-old Ames told reporters.

''It was tough out there and you had to put the ball in the right spots. Besides taking double on five, I played within myself and was very patient.

''I took my birdies as they came along,'' added the Trinidad-born professional, who collected five birdies on the day. ''I hit some quality shots at the end, which is what we all want to do.'' Ames, whose only PGA Tour title came at the 2004 Western Open, has several leading players hot on his heels with the top 16 separated by just five shots.

''I like my position right now,'' said Ponte Vedra Beach resident Singh, who mixed four birdies with two bogeys.

PLAYED SMART ''I don't know if I was under the radar, but I just kept doing what I do normally. I played smart, very patient golf,'' added the Fijian, who parred eight of the last nine holes along with a rare birdie-two at the treacherous 17th.

Spaniard Garcia, in sparkling form with his irons, also reeled off four birdies but rued a three-putt bogey at the par-three 13th, where he missed from just over two feet.

''That three-putt got me down a little bit but I finished well,'' Garcia said.

''I played really well under the pressure and my putting was fairly good, apart from on 13.'' Canada's Mike Weir, who holed out from 128 yards for an eagle two at the par-four fourth, fired a joint best-of-the-day 68 to finish in a tie for fourth at six-under 210.

Level with Weir was big-hitting Swede Henrik Stenson, who aced the 175-yard 13th on his way to a 70.

Twice U.S. Open champion Retief Goosen (71) was a further stroke back in a share of sixth with Americans Jim Furyk (75), Tom Pernice junior (71), Bo Van Pelt (72), John Rollins (72) and Swede Carl Pettersson (70).

Furyk, one stroke clear overnight, surrendered his advantage with a double-bogey at the par-five second hole.

PENALTY DROP The 2003 U.S. Open champion had to take a penalty drop after pushing his drive well right off the tee. After reaching the green in four shots, he putted off the back of the slick surface with his first attempt before holing out for a seven.

He then bogeyed the par-three third after finding the back left bunker off the tee and experienced a roller-coaster ride for the rest of the day as the leaderboard fluctuated wildly at the TPC at Sawgrass.

Eight players held at least a share of the lead on a day when the scoring average ballooned to 74.60. With the winds gusting up to 36 kph, only five players shot under 60 and eight returned scores in the 80s.

World number one Tiger Woods rattled up four birdies and five bogeys to finish at two-under 214.

Like everyone else, the 2001 champion struggled with club selection in the gusting winds but believes he has a chance of winning his fourth title of the year in seven starts.

''Without a doubt, but a lot depends on the course conditions tomorrow,'' he said.

''I need it to blow like this tomorrow and hopefully I can play a great round of golf.'' Of the other big names in the tournament dubbed the fifth major, U.S. PGA champion Phil Mickelson fired a 69 to finish at four under, with three-times major winner Ernie Els a further two strokes back after a 72.

Reuters PDS VP0705

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