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.
Masters champion Scheffler, who can reclaim the number one world 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 Lee 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 six-under 66 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,” said Rai. “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 ever 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 eight and nine before wrapping up his round with a tap in birdie at 16 and rolling in a 10-footer for another at 18.