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Saturday's golf: Scheffler steady at the end to build 1-shot lead in Houston

Associated Press

Houston — A key figure in the U.S. victory at the Ryder Cup, now Scottie Scheffler goes after a trophy of his own in the Houston Open.

Scheffler pitched in from 55 feet for birdie on the 14th hole, holed a 10-foot birdie on the next hole and avoided mistakes down the closing stretch Saturday at Memorial Park for a 1-under 69 and a one-shot lead going into the final round.

Scottie Scheffler tees off on the 18th hole.

Scheffler, in his third year on the PGA Tour, has a 54-hole lead for the first time. He was tied for the lead going into the final round at The American Express in 2020 and finished third.

“I’m just going to go out there and try to get off to a good start and hopefully put myself out in front early and stay there,” Scheffler said.

Kevin Tway had the lead until he chipped in the water and had to scramble for bogey on the par-4 17th, and then missed a 10-foot par putt on the closing hole. He shot 73 and was among five players who were one shot behind.

Scheffler was at 7-under 203.

Jhonattan Vegas, winless since the Canadian Open four years ago, had a 68 and will be in the final group with Scheffler on Sunday.

Matthew Wolff, one of the steadiest performers in the fall portion of the PGA Tour schedule, had a 69 and gets another shot at winning for the first time since he stepped away from golf for two months this year to reset.

Kramer Hickok had a 70 and was in the group at 204 that included Martin Trainer, the 36-hole leader who struggled to a 74.

The group two shots behind included Colonial winner Jason Kokrak, who had to play 25 holes on Saturday because of a weather delay at the start of the week, and he was all over the place.

Kokrak was at 8 under when he returned to play the 12th hole of the second round. He played his last seven holes in 7-over par and wound up nine shots out of the lead. He bounced back with seven birdies in his third round of 66 to get right back in the hunt.

Wolff also was atop the leaderboard at 8 under until he took double bogey on the 17th hole when his second shot came up short and in the water. He took a penalty drop, hit the same club to 7 feet and missed the bogey putt.

“I just misjudged the wind,” Wolff said. “To this moment, I really don’t know what happened on that hole. It might have just been not as good of a lie as I thought.”

Either way, he’s right in the mix in what should be a compelling finish with a dozen players within three shots of Scheffler’s lead.

That includes Trainer, who took a double bogey on the front nine and then dropped consecutive shots on the back nine. But he finished with a 10-foot par that left him only one shot behind.

Not bad for someone playing the weekend for only the second time since April.

“I’m certainly hitting it better than I have in the recent past, even today,” Trainer said. “I think I have turned a corner and whatever happens this week happens. But I’m just excited about the future, to be playing well again.”

Scheffler has been playing well ever since he left his four years’ at Texas with a business degree, first on the Korn Ferry Tour and then well enough to qualify for the Masters as a PGA Tour rookie. He also was picked for the Ryder Cup, where he delivered one of the biggest birdie putts late in the fourth session and then took down Jon Rahm in singles.

He also has contended in majors. All he’s lacking is a win, and with so many players in contention, it doesn’t figure to be easy.

Scheffler had a chance to win last week, contending for the lead until one errant tee shot led to double bogey on the back nine at Mayakoba.

“I feel like I’m playing solid golf right now,” Scheffler said. “I’m hitting a decent amount of fairways, a decent amount of greens, starting to roll the ball pretty good. There’s a few days where the putts may have not all gone in, but I always seem to be hitting them right around the cup at the appropriate speed so they’re bound to start falling eventually.”

LPGA

Nelly Korda started with two birdies and finished the same way at Belleair, Florida, making up plenty of ground along the way for a 7-under 63 that gave her a share of the lead with Lexi Thompson in the Pelican Women’s Championship.

Low scores ruled the day again at Pelican Golf Club, with 10 rounds at 65 or better.

Thompson did her part with a 65 that allowed her to join Korda at 16-under 194, with no shortage of contenders right behind them heading into the final round.

“I’ve been hitting it actually really close this week, giving myself a lot of opportunities,” Korda said. “Capitalized a little bit more today. But it’s going to probably take a low one tomorrow.”

Eight players were separated by four shots, a list that included defending champion Sei Young Kim (65) and long-shot Christina Kim (65), who earned a late sponsor exemption that all but ensured she would keep a full LPGA Tour card for next year.

Jennifer Kupcho was tied for the lead until she ended a streak of 45 consecutive holes at par or better by closing with a bogey for a 66. She was along in third, with Kim and Kim two behind.

Korda finished her round with a 9-iron from 128 yards that floated out of the sky to 3 feet. In the week she returned to No. 1 in the women’s world ranking, Korda now has a chance to make up ground on Jin Young Ko in the points-based award for LPGA player of the year.

Ko, who has won four times in her last seven starts to take over the top spot, leads by 15 points, with 30 points available to this week’s winner.

ANA Inspiration winner Patty Tavatanakit, having already clinched LPGA rookie of the year, would need to win to have a mathematical chance at player of the year. She had a 64 and was three shots behind, along with Lydia Ko (64).

“I just want to keep it light. I don’t want to think about winning tomorrow, just because if it were to be mine, it will be mine tomorrow if I can hold putts, hit good shots, execute,” Tavatanakit said. “If not, I’ll just go out there and just finish another round and one step closer to offseason.”

Korda already has three victories this year on the LPGA Tour – her Olympic gold medal does not – and could join Ko with a fourth win.

Ko finished with a birdie for a 67, but she was slowed by three bogeys and fell seven behind.

Thompson has even more at stake. She has gone more than two years since her last LPGA Tour victory, having already squandered a great chance earlier this year at the U.S. Women’s Open.

Thompson, tied with Kupcho to start the round, had three straight birdies on the front nine to get in front and stay there for most of the day.

“It’s amazing what she’s accomplished,” Thompson said about Korda. “Everybody knows how good the Korda sisters are as players and athletes. The whole family is. It’ll be a good final day. Looking forward to it. Hopefully we just make a lot of birdies out there.”

The top 60 in the Race to CME Globe after this week advance to the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship, which offers $1.5 million to whoever wins.

That appears set barring a big charge Sunday by Maria Fassi of Mexico, who bogeyed her final hole for a 68 and was six shots behind. Fassi likely needs to be runner-up to have any chance at getting into the top 60.

Even more critical for some players is finishing in the top 100 in the Race to CME Globe standings to keep full cards for next year. Lauren Coughlin was a late entry into the field at Pelican Golf Club and is making the most of it. She was No. 106 in the standings and shot 60 to tie for 11th, which would put her among the top 100 if she can stay there.

“I’ve been trying not to pay attention to it, just not give myself any added pressure,” Coughlin said. “I’m just trying to keep making birdies.”

Champions

Jim Furyk shot a 6-under 65 on at Phoenix to take the third-round lead in the Charles Schwab Cup Championship, putting him in position to win the PGA Tour Champions season points title.

Furyk started the round three behind leader Kirk Triplett and quickly made up ground with an eagle on the par-5 first hole at Phoenix Country Club. Fans at the par-3 15th serenaded the former University of Arizona player after he nearly aced the 178-yard hole and he gave them a wave after tapping in for birdie.

Furyk closed out his day by getting up-and-down for par on the par-5 18th for a bogey-free round that put at 16 under – one ahead of Triplett, who shot 69. Furyk can win his first Schwab Cup with a victory or with a high finish and if Bernard Langer falters.

Langer, who’s been battling back pain all weekend, bookended his third round with eagles for a bogey-free 63 to remain in the hunt for his sixth Schwab Cup. He was 10 under, six off the lead heading into the final round Sunday.

Stephen Ames shot 65 to reach 14 under and was tied with New Zealander Steven Alker, a qualifier less than four months ago who shot 68. Fan favorite Phil Mickelson was another shot back after a 68.

Furyk won the 2003 U.S. Open at Olympia Fields, was the 2010 FedExCup champion and won 17 times on the PGA Tour. The 51-year-old has won three times since joining the PGA Tour Champions tour last year, including the U.S. Senior Open in July.

Furyk has a chance add to his resume after a steady first three days at the Schwab Cup Championship. He has three bogeys through 54 holes and had four birdies to go with his eagle in Saturday’s round.

Langer played through intense pain to shoot an opening 68, then overcame more pain and three shots into penalty areas for a second-round 72.

Trailing Triplett by 11 shots, the 64-year-old German was feeling somewhat better in the third round, even if it was a strain to bend down to his ball.

Langer opened with an eagle on the par-5 first hole and added two birdies on his front nine. He had birdies on Nos. 10 and 17, then closed his round by making a roughly 20-foot eagle putt on the par-5 18th.

Langer’s low round – one less than his age – puts him in the hunt for a fifth Schwab Cup in seven years.

Triplett was unable to back up his second-round 64 with another low round, finishing with four birdies and two bogeys.

Alker had no status after turning 50 in July and qualified for the Boeing Classic in August. He got on a roll, stringing together top-10 finishes every week to keep playing and become eligible for the postseason, including a win last weekend at the TimberTech Championship in Florida.

Alker followed up a second-round 66 with four birdies and a bogey on Saturday.