Xander Schauffele survives water and rough to hold Players Championship lead

Xander Schauffele - THE PLAYERS Championship
Xander Schauffele - THE PLAYERS Championship / Sam Greenwood/GettyImages

For most of the third round of The Players, Wyndham Clark had a stranglehold on the tournament. Then it became a bit of lead-changing golf, thanks to the preponderance of water at TPC Sawgrass which amps up the nerves and causes golfers to make mistakes.   

Wyndham Clark did not play badly. It’s just that he made a couple of errors in places where he shouldn’t have, hitting in the water at the 12th, and of all places, the 17th. 

“It's unfortunate on a hole that's so iconic and has a bunch of trouble to have kind of your worst swing of the day,” he said after finishing his round. “But yeah, I followed it with a great swing and a great putt. I'm in the final group tomorrow, which is huge.”

Xander Schauffele was brilliant, firing a 65 when he needed to. As a result, Schauffele made up the four-stroke deficit that he had after 36 holes and then some.   

“At times in the past I'll get a bit ahead of myself and lose a little bit of confidence when I shouldn't,” Schauffele confessed. “Today I tried to stay in my own little box there with Austin ( his caddie) and not look at too many leaderboards when I didn't have to, just because it's Saturday, there's no need to do that.”

Meanwhile, others decided to make their own charges.     

British Open champ Brian Harman was clawing his way around the vicious course. He posted an exceptional score, 64, with nine birdies, and whoops! a bogey at the 9th. 

“Holing putts never really is predictable, but the things I can predict are how well I've been working on my stroke, my mechanics, the stuff I have to do in order to hit a bunch of good putts,” he said about making so many birdies.

Maverick McNealy, a relative newcomer, delivered on his talent and pulled himself up to 4th place, tied with Matt Fitzpatrick, the recent U.S. Open champ. McNealy also had only one bogey.

“I would say it was the short game Olympics today, and if it was the short game Olympics, I probably won gold. It was a really scrappy day,” McNealy noted.

But the real action came at the final holes, as it usually does at The Players.

Only this was a day early.  

Sahith Theegala birdied the 15th, eagled at the 16th, and birdied the 17th to give himself at least a chance on Sunday. He’s five shots back of Schauffele.   

“I think this is one of the courses that every type of player has won at, and I think inherently that makes it a great golf course design,” he said after his round. “You get punished when you hit a bad shot, and you get rewarded when you hit a good shot.”   

Scottie Scheffler, defending champ, played the first part of his round as though he might still be suffering from his neck injury, but when he birdied the last three holes, it gave Scheffler fans hope that he would become the first ever to go back-to-back at the Players.

“Yesterday on 12 I'd say was probably the worst that I've felt, which is good,” Scheffler explained. “I got some good treatment yesterday, good recovery last night, and I woke up feeling better today than I did yesterday.”

As Clark said, “It's the coolest -- got to be one of the coolest stretches in golf, having a par-5 where you can make birdie or eagle and then a really tough little par-3 and then you have the nails on 18 that's super tough.”

Saturday was just a preview. On Sunday, we find out for real who can conquer nerves. 

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Q & A of the season:

Q. In the first round and the second round darkness stopped play before everyone could get around. I was wondering if there was a reason for that or if you had anything to say about that.

Sam Burns: A reason for the darkness stopping play?