Couples shoots 63 Faldo leads in Players

PONTE VEDRA, FLA. — PONTE VEDRA, Fla. -- Before he teed off yesterday in the third round of the $1.8 million Players Championship, Nick Faldo took a look at the leader board.

It showed Fred Couples with a course-record, 9-under-par 63 on the TPC at Sawgrass and cozily positioned among the leaders in the tournament billed as the annual championship of golf's touring pros.


"The man's so hot he must be wearing asbestos shorts," the laconic Englishman said of Couples, whose recent run has taken him to the top of world golf.

Undismayed, Faldo said he "thought I'd try to go forward as well," and responded to Couples' heroics with a bogey-free 67 that gave him a one-shot lead going into today's final round of the chase for a $324,000 first prize.


Faldo, who won consecutive Masters titles in 1989-90, completed 54 holes in 203, 13-under par, and said he is "more in control now than I've been in a long time."

Couples, who came from the cut figure, par 144, with his spectacular performance, is in a group of four at 207, four strokes back but within striking distance.

"I know that I'm going to be close enough that with a 66 or 67 I LTC can win," said Couples, who was in the second group off the tee at 9:05 a.m., and finished play long before the other leaders even started.

"I'm in great shape now," he said. "I know I'll be playing late tomorrow, and I'll just come out and try to play another good round."

Three other players are between Faldo and Couples, however, and another good effort will be required to extend his nine-month streak that has produced five victories and 19 finishes of sixth or better in 23 worldwide starts.

Phil Blackmar, who blew this title a year ago with a ball in the water on the 71st hole, was second alone at 204.

Blackmar, 6 feet 7, the biggest man on the pro tour, had a share of the lead until he bogeyed the final hole and shot 68.

British Open champ Ian Baker-Finch of Australia was another stroke back at 205 after a 68, and Davis Love followed at 206. He birdied the 18th hole for a 71.


Couples was in a group with Mike Smith, Nick Price and Mark Brooks at 9-under par. Smith shot 66, Price 69 and Brooks 70.

Despite a run in which he has finished first, second, second, first in his past four starts, only about 30 fans were on hand for Couples' early tee time.

But when he ran a 102-yard wedge shot into the cup for an eagle-3 on the ninth hole -- completing a 30 over the front -- a huge cry went up and hundreds of spectators flocked to his side.

LPGA Dinah Shore

RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. -- Juli Inkster and Patty Sheehan, friends since their college days at San Jose State, set the stage for a friendly showdown in the final round Dinah Shore tournament.

Inkster shot her second consecutive 68 to take a one-shot lead over Sheehan after three rounds of the tournament, one of the LPGA's four majors.


Inkster and Sheehan scrambled for most of the round, with Sheehan rolling in a 20-foot birdie putt on No. 18 for her second consecutive 69.

Inkster, the Dinah Shore champion in 1984 and 1989, was at 8-under-par 208 through 54 holes at Mission Hills Country Club.

Although the former college teammates are first and second heading into the last day, there are many other players within striking distance.

Dottie Mochrie, runner-up to Amy Alcott in the Dinah Shore a year ago, shot a third-round 70 to stay within two shots of the lead this time.

Jan Stephenson, playing some of her best golf of recent times, shot a 68 to move to 4-under, four shots behind Inkster.

"It's going to be tough [today] because I know Patty really wants badly to win this one and I badly want to win it, too," Inkster said. "Golf's an individual game, no partners.


"We can't be concentrating on beating each other; there are other players close behind us. It's going to be a shootout."

Sheehan, whose 26 career victories do not include a Dinah Shore title, said: "I don't think the fact that Juli and I are good friends will affect our play. I'm sure we'll go out there and have fun; it's not often you get to play with your friend on the final day."

Senior Grandslam

KURIMOTOMACHI, Japan -- Ray Floyd shot a 6-under 66 to hold a two-shot, second-round lead in the Senior Grandslam Championship.

Floyd has a combined 131 on the 6,657-yard Oak Hills Country Club course.

South African Gary Player, playing his first Japanese tournament in 18 years after the easing of his country's apartheid policy, matched Floyd's bogey-free 66 and was alone in second.


MA Four shots behind Floyd at 135 was Jim O'Hern, who shot a 67.