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Webb Simpson runs lead to The Players Championship record 7 strokes

| Saturday, May 12, 2018, 8:29 p.m.
Webb Simpson plays a shot on the 18th hole during the third round of The Players Championship on the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass on May 12, 2018 in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.
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Webb Simpson plays a shot on the 18th hole during the third round of The Players Championship on the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass on May 12, 2018 in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, FL - MAY 12:  Webb Simpson of the United States reacts on the 17th green during the third round of THE PLAYERS Championship on the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass on May 12, 2018 in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida.  (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
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PONTE VEDRA BEACH, FL - MAY 12: Webb Simpson of the United States reacts on the 17th green during the third round of THE PLAYERS Championship on the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass on May 12, 2018 in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — Webb Simpson didn't back off at The Players Championship with another shot he wasn't planning to make, atonement on the island-green 17th and a 4-under-par 68 that stretched his lead to a record seven shots Saturday.

He started with an 8-foot birdie putt on the opening hole. His shot from the back bunker to a front pin on the par-5 11th raced across the green and into the cup for an unlikely eagle.

And that island on the par-3 17th was no problem at all. A day after making double bogey to ruin his bid to break the course record, Simpson rapped in a 3-foot birdie putt.

It added to a 19-under 197, tying the 54-hole record set by Greg Norman on a soft course in March. And the 32-year-old Simpson has history on his side. No one ever has lost a seven-shot lead in the final round in PGA Tour history.

Tiger Woods had his best round on the Stadium Course, playing the final six holes in 1-over for a 65. Jordan Spieth made two bogeys in his round of 65 as both charged up the leaderboard in the morning with big crowds and loud cheers.

That got them into the top 10, but they made up only three shots on Simpson. They were 11 behind.

Danny Lee was leading the B-Flight with a bogey-free round but only two birdies on the par-5s on the back nine. He shot a 70 and will be in the final group.

Dustin Johnson at least improved his chances of staying No. 1 with four birdies over his final 10 holes for a 69. He was in third place, nine shots behind, and figured all he could do Sunday was go as low as he could and see where it led.

Johnson is among six players to lose a six-shot lead in the final round, last fall in Shanghai. And with danger lurking at every corner on the Pete Dye-designed Stadium Course, that would suggest that the crystal and largest paycheck in golf — just shy of $2 million — doesn't belong to Simpson just yet.

He just hasn't shown any signs of cracking.

His only two bogeys came on the toughest par-3 at Sawgrass (No. 8) and a three-putt from 40 feet on the 14th, the toughest hole in the third round. He finished the day with a par putt from 18 feet.

A trio of PGA champions — Jason Dufner (66), Jimmy Walker (70) and Jason Day (71) — were at 9-under 207, along with Xander Schauffele (71).

“If you take Webb out of the equation, the golf course is playing about like it always does,” Johnson said. “He's the only one that's going really low.”

Woods ran off four birdies in five holes at the start of his round, made the turn in 30 and then added a two-putt birdie at No. 11 and a pitch to 8 feet on the short 12th. He was in range of the course record that eluded Simpson on Saturday.

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