players championship third round

Xander Schauffele turns tables at Players Championship with third-round rampage

Xander Schauffele was simply stunning on day three at The 50th Players, but so was Wyndham Clark and it is all to play for in the final round in Florida…


The third round of the 2024 Players Championship was dramatic and engrossing.

We have two standout contenders at the top of the leaderboard, but there is a host of PGA Tour stars and major champions waiting in the wings to pounce as well

Will it be Xander Schauffele’s crowning moment of his career so far? Before we consider this, let’s recall the third round at TPC Sawgrass

So what happened?

Wyndham Clark began moving day in Ponte Vedra four shots ahead of Schauffele and Nick Taylor, and he started well with two birdies in his opening seven holes.

An issue for Clark was the flawlessness of Schauffele. The Olympic gold medallist reached 14-under-par for the tournament with four birdies in his opening nine holes while playing with his 2023 Ryder Cup teammate.

Their other compatriot who was in Rome, Brian Harman, made a charge of his own and burst into contention from the pack, the opposite of how he won The Open at Royal Liverpool.

The diminutive man from Georgia surged up the leaderboard with nine stunning birdies and a sole bogey on hole 9, a par 5. Could you believe it?

Harman reached the clubhouse and was sat cosy on 15-under-par while talking to Damon Hack in the US broadcast booth, wearing a wide smile. Meanwhile, Clark forged on with a birdie on 11 to reach 16-under-par and Schauffele was now just one shot behind.

Maverick McNealy, still winless on the PGA Tour, experienced both highs and lows on Saturday at TPC Sawgrass. He chipped in twice, made a six on hole 16 and a two on hole 17. He signed for a 68 to reach 13-under-par, the same score as the former US Open champion Matt Fitzpatrick.

The Englishman double-bogeyed the 4th hole but rallied on the back nine with five birdies, four of which arrived in the last five holes.

Walking off the 16th hole, Schauffele and Clark had drawn level on 17-under-par and then rather inexplicably, Clark chunked his tee shot on the 17th hole well short of the putting surface and into the yawning water hazard.

The 30-year-old made a gutsy bogey while Schauffele cosied his ball down to the hole for a par. His bogey-free 65 was absolutely outstanding and it awarded him a one-shot lead over Clark with 18 holes left of The 50th Players.

Below is the leaderboard after 54 holes…

players championship third round

ALSO: What is it like to make your Players Championship debut?

ALSO: A Park to the Palace: The last 3 holes at TPC Sawgrass is another world entirely

What was the biggest talking point?

Unfortunately, the twist of fate that sucked Wyndham Clark’s ball into the water on the 17th hole has to be the biggest talking point of the third round of The Players Championship.

For a major champion so cool and so in form, having won the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am in February and coming second last week at Bay Hill, it was completely unexpected.

But the second Clark hit his ball off the famous turf, it was expected. The little white thing had at least another 20 yards to cover before it reached its apex and began to collapse into the water.

What followed was an incredibly brave second attempt from the same tee box, not the drop zone. Clark fist-pumped his ball into the hole for what was a poor, but crucial bogey.

“It’s massive,” he said. “It’s unfortunate on a hole that’s so iconic and has a bunch of trouble to have 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.”

What did they say about their play?

Wyndham Clark

“I think everyone has one round where they have to really grind it out and make those par putts and bogey putts or whatever it is. I felt like that was today. I’m hoping tomorrow I’ll wake up laser-locked-in focused and can go have an awesome round and hopefully have a great finish here.

“I mean, gosh, it’s hard in a final group on a Saturday, and especially when everyone else is making a lot of birdies. Sometimes you can press and try to force the issue, and I thought I did an amazing job.

“If I make the par putt on 8 and make the birdie putt on 9, could have been a totally different round. I could be at 19 or 20, and we’d be having a different conversation. I felt like I still played good golf. I hit a lot of good shots. Just seemed like a couple of missed clubs, and a couple of missed putts. Other than that, I thought I played fine.”

Xander Schauffele

“I mean, I only hit two fairways on the back nine. I was just told that on the radio. Don’t feel bad for me. When you make 58-footers, you 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.

“I think there’s still a few things I’m not super comfortable with. We talk about it all the time. But a steady drip caves a stone and we both believe that’s the case, and that’s what we’re going to do.”

Brian Harman

“I think it’s a great test of golf. I think if you go out and execute a bunch of golf shots and think your way around this place, you can shoot a low number, or if you don’t you can shoot a high number. This tournament has produced a variety of winners. It’s hard to defend. I think that’s good for golf.

“That could just be me being selfish that, like at the bombers’ tracks I have less of a chance, but I enjoy coming here. I feel like it’s a fair test, and I think that’s probably why I’ve done okay here.”

Maverick McNealy

“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. Front nine was really hard to get a bead on the wind, because it was kind of coming from every direction, and even some good shots were missing the greens.

“But held it in there really well with some good up-and-downs, took advantage of some of the reachable holes, and then started hitting it all over the place on the back nine. I’m about to head to the range and hit a bucket of balls and just get my tempo and timing and rhythm figured out.

“Head got going pretty quick there on the back nine with all sorts of crazy stuff happening, but really proud of how I for the most part, except for 16, I kept it in play, kept it in front of me and gave myself a chance every hole.”

Matt Fitzpatrick

“I feel like hole 4 got away from me. I was trying to do the smart decision and chip out, which was right. Then I don’t even know what’s happened on the next one. I can’t believe how much it moved in the air from 70 yards. It was bizarre. Then a mistake on 5 off the tee. We hit the wrong club there. I just felt that I’ve been playing well so far this week, felt like I’m comfortable with the course.

“Sometimes I’ve been here where you don’t necessarily feel like you’re playing well. The visuals make it even harder. But this week so far, hitting good shots on certain holes really makes you feel different about the hole. I think that’s been the biggest thing and just felt that with there not being too much wind, you can still be pretty aggressive.”

Shot of the day

Doug Ghim fought his way back into contention in spectacular style at The Players Championship. The American was five-under-par for his round and without a bogey when he reached the back of the 17th green.

Reminiscent of Tiger Woods’ ‘Better than most’ putt from 2001, Ghim chipped his ball down the snakey slope towards the front pin and his ball dropped in the cup. It was a magical moment that took him to nine-under-par for the tournament and a 66 on the day.

ALSO: Stunning shot-tracers on a misty morning: Practising in the dark at The Players

The ‘wholesome content’ award of the day goes to…

A 107-year-old fan was enjoying the action at TPC Sawgrass on Saturday and he did it with three other generations of his family…

Stat of the day

As stats guru Justin Ray reports, the last eight players to have held a one-shot lead heading into the final round of The Players Championship haven’t won.

Xander, you have been warned.

NOW READ: ‘We need to play faster on the PGA Tour’: Darkness halts play twice at The Players

NOW READ: A weight has been lifted! Fitzpatrick solves driver woes in bizarre fashion

Could we see a Wyndham Clark Players Championship victory? Or will someone else win? Tell NCG on X!

Matt Chivers

Matt Chivers

Now on the wrong side of 25, Matt has been playing golf since the age of 13 and was largely inspired to take up the game by countless family members who played golf during his childhood.

Matt is a member at Royal Cinque Ports in Deal playing off a 5 handicap, just a pitching wedge away from his hometown of Dover where he went to school and grew up. He has previously been a member at Etchinghill and Walmer and Kingsdown in Kent.

Having studied history at the University of Liverpool, Matt went on to pass his NCTJ Exams in Manchester a year later to fulfil his lifelong ambition of becoming a journalist. He picked up work experience along the way at places such as the Racing Post, the Independent, Sportsbeat and the Lancashire Evening Post.

Matt joined NCG in February 2023 and is the website’s main source of tour news, features and opinion. He has reported live from events such as The Open, the Ryder Cup and The Players Championship, having also interviewed and spent time with some of the biggest names in the sport.

Consuming tour golf on what is a 24/7 basis, you can come to Matt for informed views on the game and the latest updates on the PGA Tour, DP World Tour, LPGA Tour, Ladies European Tour and LIV Golf.

What’s in Matt’s bag: Cobra LTDx LS driver, Cobra LTDx 3-wood, TaylorMade P7MC irons, Ping Glide 4.0 wedges, Odyssey putter.

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