Schaufele overcame a four-stroke deficit to lead the Players

Schaufele overcame a four-stroke deficit to lead the Players

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — Xander Schauffele erased a four-shot deficit Saturday with another no-holds-barred round on a course where trouble is around every corner, carding a superb 7-under 65 to salvage a tie and take a one-shot lead leads into the final round of The Players Championship.

US Open champion Wyndham Clarke, who had a four-shot lead early on and extended it to five with a birdie at the opening hole, did well to ensure the deficit was not extended.

They were tied going to the island green on the par-3 17th. Clark hit it so clumsily that his wedge shot came about 15 yards off the ground. But he hit the next to 7 feet and escaped with bogey, then saved a par on the 18th for 70.

For a brief moment on a balmy afternoon, it looked like the Players might turn into a two-man Clarke and Schaufele contest. But there were enough birdies, enough gutsy shots and big rallies to suddenly make a Sunday full of possibilities.

Schaufele was 17-under 199.

Open champion Brian Harman was briefly delayed by bogey on the par-5 ninth, which required him to attempt a right-handed shot, and then the diminutive lefty birdied four of his next five holes to finish with a 64. He trailed by two strokes.

Maverick McNeely and former US Open champion Matt Fitzpatrick each had 68s and were four shots behind, each with their share of brilliance and mistakes.

Scotty Scheffler, the No. 1 player in the world who is dealing with neck pain this week, has kept his chances alive to become the first back-to-back winner in 50 years at the PGA Tour’s premier championship. He bogeyed his final three holes for his 26th straight round under par this year, a 68 that left him within five strokes of the back. He was joined by Sahit Tigala (67).

Schaufele’s placement made the “difference”

Brandel Chamblee and Paul McGinley analyze Xander Schauffele’s Round 3 performance at The Players Championship, explaining why he has “a lot to prove” heading into Round 4.

Schaufele has just one hole over par through three rounds on the stadium course at TPC Sawgrass. It was a double scare on the 11th hole on Friday. Making the pitch was more about making birdies and he was up to the task, even if it didn’t look like it at first.

Schaufele, winless since the Scottish Open in the summer of 2022, missed a 4-foot birdie putt on the first hole and Clarke hit from deep rough to 5 feet for bogey.

Schauffele continued to chip in with birdies, coming within one shot of the turn, catching Clark with a birdie on the reachable par-4 12th and taking his first lead with a birdie putt from just 60 feet on the 14th.

But he lost some chances going in. Schaufele went from deep rough to soft bunker sand about 45 short of the green on the par-5 16th, putting an easy birdie out of the picture. Then, after Clark went into the water on the 17th with a front pin, Schaufele went well long and did well to lag his putt across and down the slope to get within range.

He also found the pine straw right of the 18th fairway, leaving him scrambling for par.

And now he has two major champions hot on his heels – Clarke, who is going for his second win of the year and is playing better golf than anyone but Scheffler, and Harman, who is looking for his first win since conquering the board jug at Royal Liverpool last summer.

The surprise in the mix was McNeely, who recently returned from a back injury. He provided plenty of excitement down the stretch, starting with a 43-yard putt he holed for birdie on the 14th. He hit a 60-foot putt from the green on the 15th, then hit it from 35 feet for par.

He dropped a wedge in the water on the 16th – there was no recovery from it – and then bogeyed it on the 17th to get into the conversation on Sunday.

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