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Scottie Scheffler’s big finish gives him a 3-shot lead at the Memorial

DUBLIN, Ohio (AP) — Masters champion Scottie Scheffler is only making it look easy right now. It didn’t feel that way Friday on a firm course in gusty wind, where he finished strong for a 4-under 68 to go from a tie to a three-shot lead in the Memorial.

Scheffler hit a 3-iron into the wind that narrowly cleared the bunker and rode the slope to 8 feet for eagle on the par-5 15th, and he closed with two solid par saves and a shot from a fairway bunker to 12 feet for birdie on the last to build some separation.

He was at 9-under 135, three shots ahead of Viktor Hovland and Adam Hadwin, chasing another $4 million prize against a suddenly smaller field.

The Memorial is a signature event with a $20 million purse, but the three tournaments with player hosts — the Arnold Palmer Invitational, Genesis Invitational (Tiger Woods) and Memorial (Jack Nicklaus) — have a 36-hole cut to top 50 and ties.

That sent home 22 players, a list that includes Jordan Spieth, U.S. Open champion Wyndham Clark, Patrick Cantlay and Rickie Fowler, who had to play the final eight holes in even par to post an 82.

And then there was Scheffler, rarely getting into trouble until a rough patch early on the back nine when the wind was at his strongest, eventually regaining those lost strokes.

“I really just love competing out here, and I don’t really think about whether or not it’s easy or hard,” Scheffler said. “And some days I play good and some days I don’t. And outside of that, I’m just out here trying to compete.”

It was telling, though, when asked the last time he walked off the course and told his caddie that he felt as though he didn’t have his best stuff.

The obvious answer, which he finally reached, was the 73 he had in the third round of the PGA Championship, his highest score of the year. That was one day after the adrenaline wore off from his wild day at Valhalla when he was arrested and briefly jailed.

Scheffler was quick to jokingly point out, “That was another caddie so we’ll blame him for that.” His regular caddie, Ted Scott, missed that round because he had gone home to Louisiana for his daughter’s high school graduation.

Hovland’s confidence is building every round, and he played bogey-free on the back nine of Muirfield Village, no small feat. He finished with a shot from 181 yards into 2 feet for birdie.

Hadwin played in the morning when the wind wasn’t quite so strong, but it didn’t take much. The Canadian was at 8 under for the tournament until he drove into a bunker on the 17th, could only advance it back to the fairway, found the deep bunker short of the green and wound up with a double bogey.

Asked how to gauge the wind, Hadwin said, “I’ll be shocked if any other player said it was anything other than a guess.”

“That’s all we’re doing. It’s just educated guessing, really,” he said. “You try and control the ball flight to limit the amount the wind will affect it. That’s probably one of the biggest things that we can do out here.”

And with a dry forecast to get the Muirfield Village course even firmer, it most likely will only get more difficult on the weekend.

Christiaan Bezuidenhout of South Africa had the low round of the day at 67 and was four shots behind, along with Keegan Bradley (69). Ludvig Aberg, who spent two days watching Scheffler put on another clinic, shot 72 and was five back.

“He’s playing very, very good golf and it doesn’t look very difficult when he’s playing,” Aberg said. “But all I can do is try to keep up and make sure I’m not too far behind, I guess.”

Aberg holed a bunker shot on the 17th, the ball smacking off the pin, coming back out and then dropping into the cup. He bogeyed the final hole.

PGA champion Xander Schauffele holed out a bunker shot for birdie after a wild 14th hole, one of the few bright spots in his 73 that put him six behind, along with Rory McIlroy (71).

It was a good two days for those on the U.S. Open alternate list. Lee Hodges, in a tie for 20th, was the only player from the top 28 on the leaderboard who is not already in Pinehurst No. 2 next week. Five U.S. Open spots are being held for late qualifiers.

For Hadwin, he is in a tight race with Corey Conners for the final Olympic spot for Canada. That will be decided after the U.S. Open. That’s a lot to take in.

“I am going to do my best to try and win a golf tournament. That’s it. That’s my sole focus,” Hadwin said.

That means making up ground on Scheffler, and that most certainly is not easy.

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