Schauffele storms to the lead, as leaderboard shakes up in third round


When Saturday dawned, it looked for all the world like Wyndham Clark was going to take THE PLAYERS victory a day early.

He was four shots ahead of his nearest competitor but funny things can happen over 18 holes of golf, and the third round of this year’s Players was no exception, as the water got Clark, twice.

Saturday is supposed to be moving day, as in moving up the leaderboard.  For several hours, only a few were advancing on leader Wyndham Clark who seemed to have the tournament in hand.  

Then Clark made an uncharacteristic error – hitting his tee shot into the water at the 12th and that let five golfers back into the event.  They absolutely took advantage.  

First, Xander Schauffele pounced on the 12th, taking advantage and making birdie, tying the U.S. Open champ. He never let up.  At the end of his round, he was in the lead, one ahead of Clark.  

Then it was British Open winner, Brian Harman, who went on an absolute birdie barrage, with nine of them in his round, pulling within two shots of the leader after a 64.  

One newcomer remained involved.  Maverick McNealy was cruising along in fourth place until he had a run-in with the 16th hole.

More exactly, the water on the 16th hole that dropped him two places to sixth, but as everyone discovered today, a shot can be made up at TPC Sawgrass. And that is just what he did by birdieing the 17th and he sits in fourth.   

Sahith Theegala, former Pepperdine star and a matinee idol in the making, piled on four birdies and an eagle, never mind that one bogey, to pull within five of the top mark.

“I don't think I hit an iron shot in the vicinity of the hole the whole day, and then the iron shot on 16 was probably the best swing I put on a shot all day,” Theegala said.  “A little bit of good luck and good timing.” 

It was a five-iron from 216 yards.

The defending champ, Scottie Scheffler, who had a neck injury yesterday, rallied to tie for fifth with another day to go. He finished birdie, birdie, birdie.    

“I hit some good shots towards the end. It was good to see some quality shots,” Scheffler said after his round. “Kept battling until the end. I did my best to stay patient out there, but this place can be fairly frustrating, and it was nice to get some birdies to close.”

The 36-hole leader, Clark, to his credit, was tough enough to get back to a tie for the lead after the 16th, but then the island green got him.  

Now, who will win this thing?  Well, my pick slid down the leaderboard earlier today, a victim of some Pete Dye poisonous deception or another.  

For certain, Xander Schauffele is tougher than he looks. He made it to the Tour Championship in his first season as a pro and won it.  He’s the defending Olympic champ, if there is such a thing.

“I only hit two fairways on the back nine,” Schauffele said. “Don't feel bad for me. When you make 58-footers, you kind of get up-and-down on holes like 18 from the front rough, it takes a little bit of stress off certain parts of your game.”

Brian Harman has overcome not being a long hitter to win the British Open. He’s definitely tougher than he looks.

“I think if you go out and execute a bunch of golf shots and think your way around this place, you can shoot a low number, or if you don't you can shoot a high number,” Harman said after his round. “This tournament has produced a variety of winners. It's hard to defend. I think that's good for golf.”

Yet, even Scheffler is not out of it. He finished birdie-birdie-birdie, and is five strokes back. 

It would be a stretch for him to repeat as champ, but it’s not impossible, especially on one of the most treacherous courses in the world.

THE PLAYERS, third round, Xander Schauffele