Now Cejka must hold off Tiger
Alex Cejka will reach back 13 years for inspiration when he takes on Tiger Woods in the final round of The Players today.
Alex Cejka will reach back 13 years for inspiration as he prepares to hold off Tiger Woods in the final round of The Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass today.
The German will go head-to-head with the world number one in the final round armed with a five-shot lead over the American and five others as he bids to win his maiden PGA Tour event.
While he has not held a five-shot lead before in any of his four European Tour victories, Cejka said he had enjoyed being paired with Woods before, in particular at the 1996 Open at Lytham.
The pair faced each other in the final round with the Czech-born Cejka outscoring Woods, then an amateur, 67 to 70 on his way to a tie for 11th place.
“I’ve played with him twice before, once in an exhibition, once in the last round at the British Open,” Cejka said.
“It’s going to be tough. He’s the best player but it’s going to be a good challenge for me.
“I know I have a lead but it’s against not only Tiger but against the rest of the field. I mean, I’ve got to play well to win here.”
Cejka, 38, holed a birdie at the 18th for a third-round 72 and stressed the onus was on Woods to make the running on the final day.
“The last time I played with him I dealt with it pretty good,” Cejka added.
“Again, we’ll see. It’s nice to watch the best player in the world but I’ve got to focus again on my game and let him work a little bit.
“I’m in a position where he has to make the birdies and we’ll see what happens. But I’m looking forward to it.”
The German, who fled Communist Czechoslovakia with his father when he was nine, admitted he did not know how he was going to deal with the mental challenge of playing with a five-shot lead.
“I’ve never had a five-shot lead,” he said, laughing, “so I really don’t know.
“It depends how I come on the driving range or how I feel.
“Right now I can’t tell you. It depends how I sleep and on the driving range if I feel well, I can tell you but right now, who knows what is in 14 hours or however long it is to my tee time.
“It’s nice to have a cushion like this. There is no guarantee, but I’d rather be five ahead than two behind and still playing with him.”
On Saturday overnight leader Cejka teed off in the last pairing with an Ian Poulter who was entertaining thoughts of a maiden PGA Tour victory.
Cejka teed off at 11 under par, leading Poulter by two strokes with world number one Woods in a tie for 22nd place on four under.
By day’s end, after temperatures in the 80s and 90s sped up the greens at the Players Stadium Course, Cejka held a five-stroke lead at 11 under with Woods leading a six-man group including Poulter in a tie for second place on six under.
It is the largest third-round lead in the 36-year history of the event but Woods has already overcome the deficit in reeling in Sean O’Hair for victory at Bay Hill in March.
The Czech-born German birdied the last for a third-round 72 while Poulter came away with a disappointing three-over round of 75.
Woods shot a five-birdie, three-bogey 70 some two hours before the leaders finished and was also joined by Henrik Stenson of Sweden, South Africa’s Retief Goosen and fellow Americans Jonathan Byrd and Ben Crane.
Lying a further shot back on five under were England’s Brian Davis and American duo John Mallinger and Kevin Na, who got to nine under at the turn before carding a back nine of 40 for a two-over 74.
Cejka birdied the fifth to go to 12 under but when he did slip up, also bogeying the seventh, Poulter failed to capitalise, bogeying the eighth to leave Na in sole possession of second place, only for the American to bogey the 10th and 11th.
Poulter fell further off the pace at the next hole, three-putting on the ninth green for a bogey six to slip to seven under, and there was more woe for the Englishman at the 11th, ranked second easiest on the course on Saturday, when his second shot from 254 yards out found water to the right of the green.
Poulter made amends from the drop zone 111 yards from the pin when he sent his fourth shot to seven feet from the hole but then missed the par putt to continue his slide.
Woods had also found trouble off the tee at 11, and played his second shot from the base of a pine tree left handed with a flipped over iron.
While that paid dividends his third shot from out of position on the right fairway demanded a cut around a tree but Woods’ shot never turned back in from the left and he was forced to settle for a bogey six to fall to four under.
The setback was short-lived, however, as Woods birdied the 12th and overcame a bogey at 15 with back-to-back birdies at 16th and 17th to get to six under.
The world number one flirted with the rough and the water on his way to the 18th green but got up and down for par and a round of 70.
“Just grinding it out,” Woods said. “This is basically our fifth major and that’s how it’s playing.
“It’s hard, it’s fast, it’s dry and you just have to keep plodding along.”
Also moving up the leaderboard was two-time US Open champion Goosen. The South African birdied the 14th and 16th holes to get to seven under but bogeyed the par-four 18th to fall back to six under.
Davis shot a 71 to finish at five under while fellow Englishman Justin Rose shot a 72 to finish his third round on three under, but compatriot Paul Casey shot a four over 76 to finish at one under for the week.
With 83 players making the weekend’s play, tournament officials decided to make another cut after the third round to reduce the field further to the low 70 and ties.
World number two Phil Mickelson had briefly been at two over, the projected second cut line, but came home in 71, one under for the week, as did Luke Donald of England.
Defending champion Sergio Garcia posted a 73 to finish at one over while Padraig Harrington hit a 74 to finish at two over.
“I drove the ball super today,” Harrington said, a day after admitting his “addiction” to perfecting his swing and promising to get back to playing to his strengths.
Two over was still enough to reach the final round but Robert Karlsson, Martin Laird and McDowell were facing a Sunday off after finishing on the wrong side of the line.
Swede Karlsson’s 75 sent him to three over, Scotland’s Laird shot a four-over 76 to finish at three over while McDowell finished with a 77, five over for the week.
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