Defending champion Scottie Scheffler was right where he started at the end of another long day.
The second-ranked Scheffler posted at three-under-par 68 and holds a two-stroke lead over third-ranked Jon Rahm of Spain and Nick Taylor of Canada after a third round that was played before some 200,000 fans in the 86th WM Phoenix Open on the Stadium Course at TPC Scottsdale in Scottsdale, Ariz.
After two days of some players not finishing their rounds and having to return early the next day following a two-hour frost delay on Thursday, the 36-hole cut was made and the tournament got back on track for a Sunday finish.
Scheffler or Rahm could take the No. 1 ranking back from Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland, who is tied for 28th, with a victory.
“That would be a lot of fun,” Scheffler, who collected three more victories last season after winning this tournament last season. “It looks like right now we’re one and two, but we’ll see how things shake out. A lot of guys are playing well and it should be fun.
“I feel good. I didn’t hit it as well today as I hoped to, but still got around in three-under. I kept the ball in play for the most part. Just kept plugging along. Only one bogey was good today. Today was a lot of fun going out there and grinding and hitting some really nice shots under pressure. Tomorrow I hope it’s more of the same.
“I’d probably feel the same amount of pressure if I was two shots back. But it’s definitely good being two shots ahead. I’m looking forward to tomorrow.”
Scheffler, the reigning Masters champion, opened with 68-84 and in round three kick-started his round with a 47-foot birdie putt on the second hole, added birdies at Nos. four, 14 and 17 en route to a 54-score of 13-under 200.
Rahm, who has won four of his last seven tournaments and had other three top-10s during that time, birdied three of the last five holes in a 68, including a 41-foot birdie putt on the famed 16th Stadium hole at TPC Scottsdale.
“All I could think of is, ‘I’m hoping I make this putt,’” Rahm said of the bomb he holed at No. 16. “Then, I make it and they’re going to go pretty crazy. I’m all the way back there and I’m hoping to make it, but I’m perfectly happy with an easy stress-free two-putt. We felt the chaos going on. I just thought it was best to not give it too much time. I didn’t want to give the crowd too much time to think about throwing anything else.
“To be even-par through No. 11 was challenging. I had to dig deep to make a few putts and keep the round going. The few birdie putts that I had earlier, I didn’t really take advantage of. I had plenty of them.
“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.”
Said Taylor, who made birdies on the last two holes for a 67: “I would have liked to have made a couple more putts, but that’s golf. But I just keep plugging away. I keep hitting good shots, kept trying to make putts. That’s golf. Just keep plugging away. Keep hitting good shots. Keep trying to make putts. So overall, obviously I’m in in a really good position.”
Jordan Spieth birdied three of the last three holes for a 69 and is three shots back in a tie for fourth with Nick Taylor of Canada, a second-round co-leader, who followed two 66s with a 71, including a tap-in birdie on the 16th hole.
Sixth-ranked Xander Schauffele of La Jolla and San Diego State followed two 67s with a 70 that included three straight birdies on the front nine, and is four down in a tie for sixth with Rickie Fowler of Murrieta, who made four birdies on the front nine in a 67; Tyrell Hatton of England, whose six birdies gave him a second straight 67; Sungjae Im of South Korea, who made four birdies on the last six holes for another second straight 67, and Jason Day of Australia, who had three birdies on the front nine in a 68.
Ninth-ranked Justin Thomas was tied for 16th following a 67 that included a six-foot eagle putt at No. 16; top-ranked McIlroy, who birdied two of the last three holes for a 70 and is tied for 28th, and 10th-ranked Matt Fitzpatrick of England struggled to a 73 and is tied for 57th.
Fifth-ranked Patrick Cantlay of Los Alamitos and UCLA finished two rounds at 73-70—143 and missed the cut by two strokes, while seventh-ranked Collin Morikawa of La Canada Flintridge and Cal totaled 73-72—145 and missed the las two rounds by four shots.
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