Jon Rahm was just another golfer at the start of the third round of the 2019 Players Championship.
He had played well in the first two rounds of the tournament and was seven-under par after 36 holes, but he trailed co-leaders Rory McIlroy and Tommy Fleetwood by five strokes.
McIlroy and Fleetwood were playing TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, like a couple of masters, and it looked like those two had a chance to run away from the field.
But that did not happen, as both got off to slow starts on moving day. While those two struggled, Rahm asserted himself and had one of the most memorable days of his young career. The 24-year-old Rahm fired an eight-under 64, which was one stroke off the Players Championship record.
Rahm came from off the pace to take the lead in the tournament often referred to as the fifth major, and he holds that lead by himself. Rahm has a one-stroke lead over McIlroy and Fleetwood. It is the first time in his career that Rahm's name is on top of the leaderboard at the 54-hole mark.
McIlroy started his round with a bogey-bogey, while Fleetwood had a double bogey on the opening hold. Both golfers managed to hold it together and finished with two-under scores of 70 during the third round of the tournament.
Rahm and Fleetwood will be in the final pairing for the championship round, while McIlroy will be paired with Jason Day, who shot a four-under 68 and is 12-under par for the tournament.
Rahm explained that a change in his mental approach helped him maintain a calm demeanor even after hitting poor shots. "I have a different approach than I did last year or in the past," Rahm said in an interview with NBC's Mike Tirico. "I am trying to keep my feelings and my emotions under control because there is always a next shot coming."
Rahm put that philosophy into full effect on the front nine. After he dropped a stroke with a bogey on the sixth hole, he stayed calm, parred the next two holes before closing out the front nine with a birdie on the ninth hole.
McIlroy made a nice comeback after the slow start and said that his goal was to "hit fairways" in Sunday's final round.
Fleetwood spoke with NBC's Steve Sands about his inconsistent round. "I could tell I really wasn't at my best, and I had to grind out this round," Fleetwood said. "If I am going to win, I have to be mentally strong and hit my driver well."
Abraham Ancer also fired a 70, and he is in fifth place, four strokes behind Rahm at 11 under.
Lurking right behind is a group of six golfers at 10 under par. The key names in that group are Dustin Johnson, Jim Furyk and Brandt Snedeker. While Rahm has a big lead, it would not be a shock if Johnson could get off to a hot start and challenge the big names at the top.
Rahm and Fleetwood are in the final pairing of the day and they will tee off at 1:35 p.m. ET. McIlroy and Day will be in the preceding group. and those two will start their round at 1:25 p.m. ET.
Ancer and Ollie Schniederjans will tee off at 1:15 p.m. ET, while Keegan Bradley and Snedeker will tee off at 1:05 p.m. ET. Johnson and Brian Harman have a 12:55 tee-off time.
Here's a link to the tee times for the full field.
Tiger Woods, who suffered a quadruple bogey on the island green hole at No. 17 in the second round, fired an even-par round of 72. While he could not play himself back into contention, he hit a near-perfect shot on the 17th tee and made his putt for a birdie.
Woods, playing with Kevin Na, had a moment of humor that brought cheers and laughter from the crowd while playing that same 17th hole. Na also birdied that hole, and after he struck his short putt, he raced after the ball and picked it up at just about the same moment the ball hit the bottom of the cup.
Woods followed that by dropping his putt and racing after the ball as well, and both players broke out in laughter and huge grins. Woods, who was known for being ultra-serious for the majority of his career, has been a more relaxed competitor the last two seasons, and fans have welcomed that lighter demeanor displayed.
Rahm is one of the most talented and gifted young players on the PGA Tour, and he put it all together in the third round at TPC Sawgrass. He was near perfect in his execution, and it may be a bit much to expect him to match that performance in the final round.
McIlroy has been playing excellent golf all season, but he has not won a tournament yet because he has had issues in the final rounds of multiple tournaments. Fleetwood has won five tournaments in Europe, but he has yet to break through in North America.
If either McIlroy or Fleetwood is going to break through, they will have to take a big step up.
Don't expect any of those players to collapse, but the player who may have the best chance of playing his best round is Day. He appears to have put back issues behind him, and after shooting 66, 68 in the second and third rounds, look for Day to play his best golf and get past the leaders.
Day may also see Johnson make a charge from behind, but Day will find a way to earn the important win at TPC Sawgrass.