By MARK LONG
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – J.P. Hayes’ latest trip to Florida is turning out much better than his last one.
Hayes shot a 4-under 68 in the third round at The Players Championship on Saturday and was five shots behind leader Sean O’Hair heading into the final round.
Hayes felt he should have been closer, but a bogey on the par-4 18th – he needed three strokes to get in from 26 feet – provided a bitter finish to an otherwise solid round.
“Very frustrating,’’ said Hayes, a two-time winner on the PGA Tour. “I second-guessed myself. I hit a good drive and a good second shot, but walked away with bogey. It’s tough to swallow, but that’s the way it goes. It’s a tough hole.’’
It may have been difficult to handle, but it paled in comparison to how his last tournament in Florida – the PODS Championship in Palm Harbor in March – ended.
Hayes withdrew a few shots into the final round after complaining of minor chest pains and dizziness. He was taken to a local hospital for tests and observation. He was released the next day, then flew home to Texas for more tests.
He was eventually diagnosed with vasovagal syncope.
“It’s basically a low blood pressure situation,’’ Hayes said. “When I stand up and get moving, instead of my blood pressure picking up, it will drop. That’s it in a nutshell.’’
The symptoms had been affecting Hayes since October, but they peaked at the PODS.
“I barely could make it and almost lost it going down the first hole,’’ he said. “That was kind of a last straw. I was determined at that point to find a solution to what was going on, and I did.’’
Hayes takes medication now and drinks plenty of water, knowing heat and dehydration exacerbate the condition.
He took more than a month off, but has played three tournaments since the scare. But he has finished each of them outside the top 20.
“It’s gotten better,’’ said Hayes, who will enter the final round Sunday in a three-way tie for 10th. “It’s nothing serious is the bottom line.’’
CASPER THE BLIMP: Typical of any big sporting event, the blimp hovered over the TPC Sawgrass on Saturday, offering television viewers glorious views of the Stadium Course. There was one noticeable exception.
The blimp was plain white, and that wasn’t by accident.
“We wanted to reduce commercialization of the event,’’ said Henry Hughes, chief of operations for the PGA Tour.
In other words, the Tour paid for the blimp.
The blimp typically has a corporate logo, which is most of the exposure. Hughes also said there is a deal between the blimp and the network, in which the network will say something like, “This view provided by XYZ blimp, with John Doe as the pilot.’’
There was only one question no one could answer: Why didn’t the Tour put its own logos on the blimp?
CONSTRUCTION ZONE: When Henrik Stenson walked onto the practice range Saturday morning, playing partner Tiger Woods had a surprise for him: Woods donned a construction helmet.
Why? Stenson slammed his 3-wood to the ground Friday after hooking his tee shot into the water on the par-4 18th. The club head broke off and hit a cameraman in the hand.
“I wasn’t really tense, but it was a fun joke,’’ Stenson said after shooting a 6-under 66 in the third round and moving to 2-under 214, seven shots off the lead. “It was funny.’’
DIVOTS: The Players Championship went 33 years without a double eagle, then had two in as many days. Hunter Mahan holed out from 227 yards on the par-5 11th Friday, and Peter Lonard drained a 5-iron from 229 yards on the par-5 second Saturday. … Tom Pernice Jr. didn’t have as rare a feat Saturday, but he had one of the best shots of the day. Pernice found the greenside bunker on No. 17, the famed island green, and had to stand with one foot in the bunker and one out. Using a 54-degree wedge and an awkward stance from about 50 feet away, Pernice knocked it to within a foot. … Robert Karlsson had an interesting scorecard, finishing the third round with eight birdies, a bogey and three doubles.