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Despite watery chunk on 17, Clark only one back at The Players

Despite watery chunk on 17, Clark only one back at The Players

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – This was no time for indecision. Tie ball game. Electric atmosphere. One of the most fearsome holes in the sport. But as Wyndham Clark set his ball down on the tee of the watery 17th hole late Saturday at The Players Championship, caddie John Ellis offered one last piece of advice.

“Let’s take a little off,” Ellis said.

Clark hits a full sand wedge 118 yards. With the pin in the lower bowl, they had 117 yards to the front, 124 to the flag. Aided by a slight breeze, Ellis worried that, if Clark nuked it, the ball could carry onto the top level and leave a dastardly putt back down the slope or bound over the back.

So Clark settled in, drew back the club and then – at the top – flinched.

“I was like, Take a little off, and then I just kind of (decelerated) and chunked it,” Clark said. “It wasn’t really a lack of focus or anything. It was just, honestly, a poor swing.”

His ball floated weakly into the air. He dropped his wedge in disgust. And his ball plopped 20 yards short of the green, into the water.

Not even close.

“It’s unfortunate on a hole that’s so iconic and has a bunch of trouble to have your worst swing of the day,” Clark said.

Complicating matters, too, was that Clark was poised to try it all over again. The drop area was too close, and he didn’t like the angle. So after Schauffele found the left edge of the green, Clark plopped down another ball, straddled the left tee marker again, and smashed another sand wedge.

This time, his tee shot flew into the slope and trickled back down the hill, within 6 feet of the cup. The shock of his first tee shot was still reverberating through the crowd; the shot was hit so fat that, as he walked off the tee, he brushed some dirt off his cheeks and forearms. But up on the green, Clark managed to steady himself.

“We can still make 4,” Ellis told him, and that’s exactly what Clark did. He poured in the bogey putt and pumped his fist, relieved to walk off with just a single dropped shot.

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

Said Ellis: “Credit to him. He got up there and hit a good shot and made four. We want to get in that last group, right, and that was a big deal.”

THE PLAYERS Championship - Round Three
THE PLAYERS Championship - Round Three

Schauffele overcomes four-shot deficit to lead The Players

Schauffele leads Wyndham Clark by one shot entering the final round at TPC Sawgrass.

Staked to a four-shot lead at the halfway point, Clark’s advantage evaporated during a third-round 70 that matched the worst score of anyone inside the top 16 at TPC Sawgrass. On a day ripe for scoring, Clark made as many bogeys Saturday as he did in the first two rounds combined when he shot the second-lowest 36-hole opening score in tournament history.

Though he now trails Schauffele by one, Clark was still heartened to be in the final group, one shot clear of Brian Harman. He’s three ahead of former U.S. Open champion Matt Fitzpatrick and winless Maverick McNealy.

As Clark headed to the scoring tent, Ellis offered some perspective.

“I felt like you played your bad round today,” he said. “You got your bad round out of the way, and you’re ready to go tomorrow.”