Tuesday, May 28, 2024

McIlroy needs final round miracle as Schauffele heads Clark at Sawgrass – News – Irish Golf Desk

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Xander Schauffele shot a magnificent 65 to take a one-stroke lead into the final round of The Players, but Rory McIlroy needs a final round miracle despite making birdies at his last three holes.

The world number two headed for the range for the second day running as he again struggled with his swing but still shot a 69 that left him eight shots behind Schauffele in a tie for 12th.

The Holywood star again finished in the pack for his ball-striking as he missed six fairways and five greens.

Level par through the turn, he birdied the 11th and 12th to get to two-under for his round but double-bogeyed the 14th for the second day running before his excellent finish.

It was a day to forget for the Irish as Shane Lowry had a poor day on the greens and shot a level par 72 that left him tied 51st on three-under.

As Seamus Power struggled to a 78 sit in joint last place on three-over, Lowry missed two putts inside four feet and six inside 10 feet .

It was a different story for Schauffele, who made 138 feet of putts in his seven-under round to go from four strokes behind halfway leader Wyndham Clark to one ahead of the reigning US Open champion.

“Yeah, I mean, I only hit two fairways on the back nine,” Schauffele said. “I was just told that on radio. 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.

“All in all, it was a bit of a grind. Wind was swirling a little bit for both of us, for everyone out there on the back nine. Just was happy to stay in it and move on moving day.”

Schauffele went out in four-under 32 and added birdies at the 11th, 12th and 14th to draw level with Clark, who struggled off the tee.

Clark then did well to avoid total disaster at the 123-yard 17th, where he chunked his sand wedge into the lake but got up and down by re-teeing and making a seven-footer for bogey that he celebrated like a birdie.

He went on to par the last for a 70 as Schauffele scrambled for his four and a one-stroke lead on 17-under.

“Yeah, it’s massive,” Clark said of his bogey save at 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. 

“But yeah, I followed it with a great swing and a great putt. I’m in the final group tomorrow, which is huge.

“I’m hoping that’s a huge point in the tournament and we look back after tomorrow and look at that hole and say, hey, that was maybe the shot and the putt that meant it all.”

As for his first attempt, he said he’d agreed with his caddie to take something off his stock sand wedge.

“As I was over the ball I kind of got to the top and I was like, take a little off and then I just kind of deceled and chunked it. It wasn’t really a lack of focus or anything. It just was honestly a poor swing.”

Schauffele and Clark won’t have it all their own way after Open champion Brian Harman made nine birdies in a 64 that left him just two strokes off the pace on 15 under.

“This is my favourite PGA TOUR event of the year,” said Harman, who was third behind Justin Thomas in 2021. 

“I love coming here. They treat us like kings when we show up. The golf course is incredible. I’ve been close a couple of times. I’m really excited for tomorrow.”

England’s Matt Fitzpatrick birdied six of his last ten holes and four of his last five to shoot 68 and share fourth place with Maverick McNealy, who also shot 68, just four strokes behind the leader.

Despite struggling with a neck injury, world number one and defending champion Scottie Scheffler also shot 68 to lie one shot further back in a tie for sixth with Sahith Theegala.

“Overall, I’m just using my hands a lot, trying to hit shots,” Scheffler said of his physical limitations.

“I would describe it as kind of slapping it around out there is kind of what I’m doing. Just using my hands as much as I can, and just trying to slap it around, get it up there somewhere near the green and hopefully get up-and-down or make some putts.”

Like McIlroy, he finished with three straight birdies but admits he needs to “shoot very low” and get some help from the leaders to win from five behind.

He added: “It’s great to have a nice finish like that. Standing on 16 tee, I would say that I was pretty significantly out of the tournament, and to birdie the last three holes, I may be six or seven back, but still have a chance. 

“I’d say there’s a big difference between being six back and nine back. I think I’m still within shooting distance.”

At five behind, he cannot be discounted, but with an eight-shot deficit, McIlroy will need to iron out his long-game struggles and repeat the ten birdies he made in round one to have a chance.

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