Golf: Scheffler powers into top spot at Players Championship

Scottie Scheffler shot a seven-under 65 to take a two-shot lead at the top of the leaderboard. PHOTO: AFP

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Florida – Scottie Scheffler powered into the third-round lead at the Players Championship on Saturday, taking advantage of ideal scoring conditions as the golfers produced a spectacular display of birdies, eagles, a rare ace and a record-low round from Tom Hoge.

US Masters champion Scheffler, who can reclaim the world No. 1 ranking with a win on Sunday, got his round off to a sizzling birdie-eagle start to lay the foundation for a seven-under 65 and two-shot lead over Australia’s Min Woo Lee going into Sunday’s final round at the TPC Sawgrass.

“I played really good today,” said Scheffler, summing up his performance. “I got off to a nice start, which is always good.

“Kept it rolling from there, gave myself a lot of looks. Good finish as well.

“So overall very solid day, only one bogey, which is really good around this golf course.”

Lee, whose sister Minjee is a twice Major winner on the women’s Tour, also got his round off to the best possible start with an eagle at the first and had looked poised to share top spot on the leaderboard with Scheffler, until picking up his only bogey of the day at the 18th for a 66 and 12-under 204 total.

“Tomorrow could be the biggest day of my life, but I’m going to go out there and have fun again,” said Lee, who cracked the top 50 of the world rankings last week to earn his Players spot. “I just crept into this tournament and making the most of it and soaking it all in.

“It’s one of the biggest regular season events, and it’s obviously considered the fifth Major, and it would have been guttering to come 51st in the ranking and not get in.”

Lurking two shots back and four off the pace is Australian Cam Davis (67) with a pair of Englishmen Tommy Fleetwood (65) and Aaron Rai (65), South African Christiaan Bezuidenhout (69) and first-round leader Chad Ramey (68), all one shot further adrift at nine under.

Rai moved into contention with the help of a hole-in-one at the infamous par-three 17th, landing his tee shot perfectly on the island green and watching it spin back into the cup.

The ace was the highlight of a brilliant finish for the 28-year-old, who became the first player to close out a round at the Players with birdie-ace-birdie. “That was an incredible moment,” he said. “It was a little bit of a blur.

“I saw it go in and then I looked to the left to almost see, is it real and I saw almost all the crowd’s hands in the air.”

For all Rai’s fireworks it was journeyman Hoge who produced the round of the day, returning an error-free 10-under 62, the lowest score at a Players Championship.

Hoge, who just made the cut right on the number after a 78 in the opening round, was 16 shots better on Saturday to join Sweden’s David Lingmerth (68) and South Korea’s Im Sung-jae (64) on eight under and six back of the leader.

The day began with half the field completing their second rounds, after storms swept across Ponte Vedra Beach on Friday suspending play.

Adam Svensson, who was among the group out early, birdied his final hole to send him into the third round alone at the top of the leaderboard, a 67 good enough to leave him two clear of Scheffler.

The Canadian’s time at the top was short-lived, as Scheffler mounted an early charge with a birdie at the first and then chipping in for eagle at the second.

He would add another birdie at the fifth before collecting his only bogey of the round at the seventh.

But there would be no more miscues, as Scheffler raced into the turn with birdies at the eighth and ninth, before wrapping up his round with a tap-in birdie at No. 16 and rolling in a 10-footer for another at the final hole. REUTERS

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