Simpson, 32, a four-time PGA Tour winner who has not had a victory since October 2014, remained in control of the tournament, stretching his lead to seven shots by shooting a four-under 68. Through three rounds, Simpson sits at 19-under 197, tying Greg Norman’s 54-hole record at the tournament from 1994.
Woods was at eight-under 208 after the third round, miles behind Simpson but only four shots behind Danny Lee in second place.
Woods’s best score in 65 previous rounds at T.P.C. Sawgrass was a 66, which he shot in 2001, the year he captured the first of his two Players titles. His lowest previous rounds this season had been four-under efforts at the Valspar Championship, where he tied for second, and the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
“Eventually, I was going to put all the pieces together, and today for the most part I did that,” Woods said. “I hit a lot of good, quality shots.”
Woods said high heat and humidity were responsible for the balls traveling so far, setting up some excellent scoring opportunities. At his final hole, the 470-yard 18th, Woods reached the green with a 9-iron shot that traveled 196 yards.
His swing speed had returned to full strength, and he was pleased with the strike on his long irons, most notably a 3-iron into the 245-yard No. 8 and an approach from 243 yards at the par-5 11th, again with the 3-iron, that set up a two-putt birdie.
“The 3-iron I hit into 11, that’s all you want of a 3-iron right there,” Woods said. “It’s just a high, towering bomb, which I pulled off, which was nice.”