Wild Saturday brings uncertainty into play at TOUR Championship – PGA TOUR
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ATLANTA – It was a one-man race. Scottie Scheffler was on cruise control.
Then it was two after Xander Schauffele hit hyperspace to go 4 under on holes 16-18 in Round 2.
OK, maybe three, because Sungjae Im scorched the front nine in 30 Saturday.
But if you counted Rory McIlroy and Justin Thomas, which it would be silly not to…
Oh, never mind. In between the horns that stopped play for dangerous weather – the second and final one blew at 6:36 p.m.; 14 players will return at 9:45 a.m. Sunday to finish Round 3 – fans erupted at improbable hole-outs (Sam Burns and Billy Horschel for eagle on 18 in back-to-back groups), birdie streaks (four straight by Thomas), eagles (McIlroy, from 2 1/2 feet on No. 6) and the growing uncertainty of the outcome. This isn’t a one-man race anymore. Far from it.
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Leaderboard update @PlayoffFinale ⛳️ (3rd round still in progress)
1. Scottie Scheffler (-19)
2. Xander Schauffele (-18)
3. Sungjae Im (-16)
4. Rory McIlroy (-15)
T5. Justin Thomas (-14)
T5. Sepp Straka (-14)
T5. Jon Rahm (-14)
T5. Patrick Cantlay (-14) pic.twitter.com/S8aV7HarXo
“I didn’t really see much at all,” Scheffler said when asked if he’d noticed all the players who had bunched up behind him. “I was kind of trying to stay in my own little world. Still with a 72-hole event I think it’s still pretty early in the tournament, and right now I think we’re all just kind of jockeying for position and I was just out there trying to hit some quality shots, so it doesn’t do me too well to be paying attention to what other people do.”
What once looked like a Scheffler coronation – he led by seven halfway through the second round – and then a two-man race will be anything but Sunday, which is now rife with uncertainty after he and Schauffele mostly spun their wheels Saturday.
Eight players were within five of the lead when play was called for the day with the last twosome on 13. Scheffler, who was staked to a two-shot lead under the unique Starting Strokes format, still led at 19 under, but it was the chase pack, not him, that had momentum. One shot behind Scheffler is playing partner and 2017 TOUR Championship winner Schauffele, who birdied the second and third holes to briefly pull even with Scheffler, the FedExCup leader for most of this year.
Im was 4 under through 14 holes and three back. McIlroy, who hit his opening tee shot into the road and triple-bogeyed the first hole Thursday, was 5 under through 16 holes Saturday and four behind. And Thomas was 6 under through 17 holes but facing a two-foot birdie putt on 18 when the horn blew. That will get him to 15 under for the tournament, also four off the lead.
Sepp Straka, 6 under through 17 holes; defending FedExCup champion Patrick Cantlay, 2 under through 13; and Jon Rahm, 1 under through 13, are still in contention at five back.
Thomas, the 2017 FedExCup champion, came from seven back to win the PGA Championship earlier this season. McIlroy, bidding to make history as the only three-time FedExCup champion, was five off the lead through 36 holes when he won the 2016 TOUR Championship. (He was also nine back through 36 when he won THE CJ CUP @ SUMMIT last fall.)
No one is handing out the trophy just yet.
Sungjae Im jumps up leaderboard with eagle on No. 6 at TOUR Championship
As Schauffele has reminded, there’s a lot at stake. The bonus for winning the FedExCup is $18 million, the runner up will receive $6.5 million, and right on down the line to $500,000 for last place Will Zalatoris, who withdrew with a back injury before the tournament began.
“It’ll be a little new,” Scheffler said of what he expects Sunday. “But at the end of the day, it’s still a golf tournament and I’ve been in some intense situations this year, the Masters definitely being one of them and the other three tournaments (he won) and kind of the start-stop of the Match Play would definitely be something that would be similar to tomorrow.”
He expects he will get “a bit of a buffer” in between the third and fourth rounds. (Weather forecast for Sunday: partly sunny.) And, he added, he will try and maintain his routine.
The best player all season, Scheffler is bidding to become the first since Thomas in 2017 to win five tournaments, including a major, and the FedExCup. He has hit just one shot on the par-4 13th hole, a 306-yard drive into the right rough. He’s got nearly 24 holes ahead of him. He’s got players behind him who are starting to believe they have a chance. Golf’s ultimate prize awaits.
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