PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Florida (Reuters) - Tiger Woods put his reputation as a closer to the test on Sunday as he set out with a share of the lead in the final round of the 40th Players Championship.
World number one Woods, zeroing back into the form that once made other competitors buckle, was tied with longtime rival Sergio Garcia and PGA Tour rookie David Lingmerth of Sweden on 11 under par heading to the last 18 holes at TPC Sawgrass.
Woods, the only tour golfer with three wins this year, has won 52 of 56 tournaments in which he held the lead or share of it after three rounds and the 2001 champion was aiming to become just the sixth player with multiple wins in the Players.
Winds were picking up after a gentle morning that helped Ben Crane rattle off four birdies in a row from the second hole and birdie the ninth for a 31 on the front nine that put him at nine-under, two shots from the lead.
Scotland's Martin Laird birdied three of four from the second hole to reach eight under par, a total matched by long-hitting Australian Marc Leishman after he birdied the first and by Englishman Lee Westwood, who birdied the par-five second.
Garcia, the 2008 winner, and Lingmerth were in the last pairing, following Woods and rookie Casey Wittenberg, who was one shot back on 10-under along with Henrik Stenson of Sweden and Ryan Palmer in what is referred to as golf's fifth major.
The Spaniard said he was not disappointed to avoid another pairing with Woods, with whom he had another contentious moment in their long-running feud during Saturday's third-round pairing.
Garcia felt Woods did not show him respect when the American prepared to play his shot from within the trees some 40 yards away, eliciting a crowd roar when he pulled out his five-wood for a daring escape, as the Spaniard was making his swing from the fairway on the second hole.
"We did not talk about the situation," Garcia said when asked on Sunday whether he had cleared the air with Woods, adding he was pleased at not being paired with him.
"I think it's good for both of us. We don't enjoy each other's company," said Garcia.
"You don't need to be a rocket engineer to figure that out."
Woods and Garcia moved into a tie for the lead with Lingmerth early on Sunday after they returned to the Stadium Course to finish their suspended third rounds.
Former champions Woods and Garcia improved by a stroke in completing their last four holes, while 25-year-old Lingmerth, who led by two strokes when play was halted on Saturday, lost one when he bogeyed the 18th to stand on 11-under-par 205.
Two strokes off the pace was 49-year-old Jeff Maggert, who had completed his round before play was halted due to darkness following a day marred by bad weather and threat of lightning.
(Editing by Gene Cherry)