SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (AP)Scottie Scheffler held onto the lead Saturday at the WM Phoenix Open in a bid to successfully defend his title and regain the No. 1 spot in the world.
The second-ranked Scheffler shot a 3-under 68 in front of some 200,000 fans – including WNBA star Brittney Griner – at TPC Scottsdale to get to 13 under, two strokes ahead of third-ranked Jon Rahm and Nick Taylor.
”Something I talked about at the beginning of the week was I felt like I’ve been on the outside looking in on Sundays,” Scheffler said. ”To be in the final group with a two-shot lead, I believe, is definitely a position I want to be in. I’m looking forward to tomorrow.”
Rahm also had a 68, holing a curling 40-footer for birdie on the stadium 16th for his third birdie in four holes.
”A couple of swings that weren’t that bad put me in some bad situations,” Rahm said. ”I was able to scramble really well.”
Griner watched the action on rowdy 16th. The Phoenix Mercury center is spending time at home to recover from her time in a Russian jail. She was traded in a dramatic prisoner swap in December.
Taylor shot 67.
”It’s fun being in this environment,” Taylor said. ”I think if you’re not having fun, you probably shouldn’t be doing what we’re doing. It’s a lot of fun.”
Scheffler would take the No. 1 spot from Rory McIlroy – tied for 28th at 3 under after a 70 – with a victory, as long as McIlroy finishes worse than solo third. Scheffler also could get to No. 1 by finishing solo second if McIlroy is 36th or worse and Rahm doesn’t win.
Rahm, the former Arizona State star from Spain, would go to No. 1 with a victory if McIlroy finishes worse than a three-way tie for second, or by finishing solo second if McIlroy finishes worse than solo 47th and Scheffler doesn’t win.
Jordan Spieth and Adam Hadwin were 10 under.
Speith had the best score in the delayed second round, finishing off a 63 in the morning. He added a 69 in the third round, highlighted by a 77-yard bunker shot to 3 feet to set up a birdie on the par-4 17th.
”I could drop a bucket of balls and not hit another one inside of 10 feet,” Spieth said. ”I feel like a strength of my game is those kind of in-between bunker shots that are normally some of the most challenging shots in golf. For whatever reason I just feel comfortable in the uncomfortable in those kind of situations.”
Hadwin had a 71, playing in the final group with Scheffler and Rahm. He hit to 1 1/2 feet for birdie on the 16th, the closest of the round on the par-3 hole on the final tee shot of the day.
In the morning, Hadwin – on the 11th green Friday when second-round play was suspended because of darkness – finished off his second straight 66 for a share of the lead with Scheffler at 10 under.
Last year, Scheffler beat Patrick Cantlay in a playoff for his first PGA Tour title. Scheffler added victories in the Arnold Palmer Invitational, WGC-Match Play and Masters and was the PGA Tour’s player of the year.
The 26-year-old Texan followed a bogey on the par-5 13th – his first bogey since his fourth hole Thursday – with a birdie on the par-4 14th, hitting a 5-iron shot 210 yards to 4 feet. He also birdied the 17h.
”Feel good,” Scheffler said. ”I didn’t hit it as well today as I hoped to. But still got around in 3 under. Kept the ball in play for the most part. Just kept plugging along. Only one bogey was good today.”
He went to the driving range after the round.
”I just wanted to hit a couple drivers, a couple irons,” Scheffler said. ”Nothing specific. I hit about five balls and five putts and came back here.”
Rahm opened the year with consecutive victories in the Sentry Tournament of Champions and The American Express.
”Hopefully, tomorrow I can get off a better start, play a good front nine and go into that back nine with a solid chance of getting it done,” Rahm said.
Rickie Fowler, the 2019 winner, had a 67 to join Tyrrell Hatton (67), Sungjae Im (67), Jason Day (68) and Xander Schauffele (70) at 9 under. Schauffele bogeyed Nos. 15 and 16.
”Just managing our way around,” Fowler said. ”Obviously, I know I can play well at this place. Love the atmosphere. Love the fans. So, trying to draw from them as much as I can.”
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