Xander Schauffele chases down Wyndham Clark at TPC Sawgrass to set up Sunday showdown

PONTE VEDRA BEACH — Xander Schauffele welcomed the chance to look Wyndham Clark in the eye and make him uncomfortable Saturday at The Players Championship.

Schauffele believed it was the only way to slow Clark’s roll at TPC Sawgrass, where he led by 4 shots after 36 holes and was positioned to turn the PGA Tour’s showcase event into a snooze.

It worked. Schauffele didn’t blink while Clark did.

A bogey-free 7-under 65 left Schauffele with a 17-under 199 total and Clark stood at 16-under after a lackluster 70 on a day when the scoring average was 70.29, the lowest of the week.

Schauffele’s approach was simple and understated.

“Just play good golf,” he said. “I don’t think I’m an intimidating person, sitting here at 5’9″, 5’10”. I’m pretty friendly with most of the guys out here. Sort of just kill them with my clubs.”

Schauffele made some routine birdies and unbelievable ones, including a 58-foot putt to give him the lead on the par-4 14th — the day’s second-toughest hole. A 254-yard 3-wood off the pine straw right of the fairway carried water and a large bunker at the par-5 11th, setting up an unexpected 4.

A 35-yard wedge shot from the deep right rough on the par-4 18th settled a foot from the hole for a tap-in par on the day’s toughest hole.

“It was a bit of a grind,” Schauffele said after hitting just two fairways on his incoming nine holes. “Wind was swirling a little bit. Just was happy to stay in it and move on moving day.”

Following a birdie on the opening hole, Clark lost momentum and needed a couple of clutch putts to avoid catastrophe on a day when he couldn’t make the easy ones. After leading the field through 36 holes in strokes gained on the greens, Clark missed putts in the 5-foot range for par and birdies on Nos. 8 and 9 for an opening 35, 3 more strokes than Schauffele.

Schauffele finally moved into a tie on the short par-4 12th, sinking a 10-footer for birdie. Clark made a par save on virtually the same line to avoid a two-shot swing.

But Clark’s most clutch effort ended in a bogey.

After he chunked his wedge shot 20 yards shy of the iconic par-3 17th hole island green, Clark hit another ball from the same spot onto the putting surface 123 yards away rather than opt to play from the drop zone.

As he walked to the green, he took off his hat and wiped dirt from his face. Clark then sank the 7-foot putt.

“It’s massive,” he said. “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.’ ”

Clark’s struggles ultimately stopped a potential runaway to set the stage for another drama-filled Sunday in a tournament known for fantastic finishes.

Saturday itself delivered plenty of fireworks, none more than Brian Harman’s 8-under 64 to move him within 2 shots of the lead. The reigning British Open Championship winner trailed Clark by 7 shots to start the day but recorded the lowest round of the week following a second-round 65, giving him the lowest combined score (129) in tournament history during the middle 36 holes.

“You know that this place can flip. Very rarely does someone win by a bunch here,” Harman said.

A host of golfers aim to capitalize in the final round.

At 13-under after shooting 68 are Maverick McNealy and Matt Fitzpatrick, who closed with four birdies in his final five holes. World No. 1 and defending champion Scottie Scheffler (68) is 12-under along with Sahith Theegala, who was 4-under on his closing four holes for a 67.

Anyone else would need a historic performance to take home the Tour’s largest prize, a $4.5 million purse.

The largest comeback at TPC Sawgrass is 5 shots by Justin Leonard in 1998 and Henrik Stenson in 2009 — the latter when the tournament was amid a 12-year stretch of being held in May.

Asked what it will take to win, Scheffler said, “Shoot very low.”

After a pair of 65s to open the tournament, Clark appeared to be uncatchable and poised to turn the Players into a second straight Sunday stroll. Scheffler’s 5-shot win in 2023 was the first Players decided by more than a shot since it moved back to March in 2019.

Given the nature of tournament golf, Clark wasn’t surprised by Saturday’s result.

“Everyone kind of has one round where they have to really grind it out and make those par putts and bogey putts,” he said. “I felt like that was today.”

The role of chaser suits Schauffele. During four of his seven wins on Tour he trailed by at least 4 shots after 36 holes, including his maiden victory in 2017 at Greenbrier where he trailed by 5.

Paired again for the closing round with Clark, the roles will be reversed, but the game plan will be the same during what should be a chaotic and boisterous final day.

“At times in the past I’ll get a bit ahead of myself and lose a little bit of confidence when I shouldn’t,” Schauffele said. “Today I tried to stay in my own little box there. I heard roars all around the property and I really just kind of stayed in my lane.”

Edgar Thompson can be reached at