Fowler rockets up leaderboard in Sawgrass

Rickie Fowler has given himself the chance of back-to-back wins after a brilliant third-round charge in the Players Championship at Sawgrass.

Six days after beating fellow 23-year-old Rory McIlroy in a play-off for his first PGA Tour victory, Fowler shot 66 in blustery conditions at golf’s richest event.

It could have been even better. Fowler three-putted from just off the final green and as a consequence will go into the concluding 18 holes nine under par - three behind fellow American Kevin Na.

Best known for taking 16 on one hole of the Texas Open last year, Na birdied the final hole for a 68, but it was painful to watch at times.

He had so much trouble committing to shots that he repeatedly apologised to playing partner Zach Johnson for keeping him waiting. It also earned him a slow play warning eventually.

Matt Kuchar is one behind in second spot, but Fowler – up from 17th to third - was delighted to be in the title chase.

“I feel I am among the ones under the least pressure coming off a win,” he said. “I’m really excited about tomorrow and very confident in my game. I felt like I had the speed with the putter and it was a lot of fun.”

Americans have not won the first prize of well over £1m since Phil Mickelson five years ago, but it is looking good for them.

Johnson, a team-mate of Fowler and Kuchar in the last Ryder Cup, is joint fourth with 2003 Open champion Ben Curtis, who recently ended a long barren spell after losing his PGA Tour card.

Kuchar stood on the tee at the short 17th two clear, but dumped his ball in the lake.

He did well to escape with a bogey and made a great par save from the rough on the last for a 69.

Na explained: "I'm fighting with balance over the ball and I'm changing my backswing. There's a lot going on and I know the whole world's watching. It’s really frustrating for me and I’m screaming at myself to pull the trigger.

“All I can do is my best. After backing off once I almost feel like I’m cornered. It’s a tough situation, but I’m working on it and it’s getting better. Hopefully it will go away by the end of the year.”

Scot Martin Laird and Londoner Brian Davis – both based in the United States - remain the leading Europeans after 72s kept them six under.

They are joint sixth and Laird, seeking his third victory, said: “After the way I started I will take level par. It was extremely tough early on and I hit some bad shots. I hit a few good ones coming in, so that’s good going into tomorrow.”

Davis, yet to win in America, said: “The first six or seven holes were really hard, but on the back nine the wind dropped and there were some birdies to be had. I’m extremely disappointed with the finish, though.”

He missed chances on the 16th and 17th and then failed to get up and down on the last.

“It leaves me with a lot to do, but my swing held up. I didn’t putt well and I will go and work on that.”

Luke Donald (72), Lee Westwood (74 without a single birdie) and Tiger Woods (72) failed to make the moves they were hoping for and will resume three under, one under and two under respectively, while Ian Poulter had a 71 playing with Fowler and stands four under – good enough for joint 14th.

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