Xander Schauffele reclaims The Players lead with resilience on moving day

Xander Schauffele flexed his muscles at TPC Sawgrass Saturday. He played alongside 36-hole leader Wyndham Clark, entering the day down by four shots.

Yet, Schauffele fired off a bogey-free 7-under 65 to finish at 17-under for the tournament. His superb play helped him surpass Clark, who shot a 2-under 70 on Saturday.

While he was able to make three birdies on the back nine, it was a grind for him. He showed resilience throughout the round when finding a fairway proved impossible.

“I only hit two fairways on the back nine,” Schauffele said. “When you make 58-footers, you get up-and-down on holes like 18 from the front rough; it takes a little bit of stress off certain parts of your game. All in all, it was a bit of a grind.”

The reigning Olympic gold medalist carded seven birdies to post his second 65 of the week, but he had to have ice in his veins to make it happen.

“At times in the past, I’ll get a bit ahead of myself and lose confidence when I shouldn’t,” he said. “Today, I tried to stay in my own little box with Austin [Kaiser, his caddie] and not look at too many leaderboards when I didn’t have to. There’s no need to do that. I heard roars all around the property, and I really just stayed in my lane.”

That mindset paid off for him.

“I hold myself to a pretty high standard at times, and sometimes it’s not good to do that during the middle of the round,” he explained. “You’ve got to flick on the self-belief and positivity versus wondering why you’re not doing what you’re supposed to be doing.”

Schauffele scored when Clark couldn’t and saved par when he needed it most.

He and Clark could have easily entered Sunday tied at 17-under. However, Clark hit a terrible tee shot on 17, the infamous island green hole, hitting his tee shot just 102 yards and into the water.

The former Oregon Duck made bogey and dropped to 16-under.

Schauffele proceeded to hit his ball onto the green but left himself a tricky putt. He had excellent speed control on his birdie putt, but just missed. The 7-time PGA Tour winner settled for par but left that hole with a one-shot lead.

While today’s round should inspire confidence, history suggests that Schauffele may not take home the trophy on Sunday.

None of the last eight players who held a 1-shot lead after 54 holes at this event have gone on to win, per The Athletic’s Justin Ray.

Schauffele has 12 runner-up finishes in his career. He also has three third place finishes and 39 top-5s. The World No. 6 is notorious for coming up short at events when he could have won, so this type of stat is daunting.

Another letdown may be in the offing for Schauffele, but maybe it’s his time to finally win one of the biggest events on the PGA Tour. He and Clark will remain paired for the final round, but there are five players within five shots of Schauffele ready to go low on Championship Sunday and steal his title.

Savannah Leigh Richardson is a golf staff writer for SB Nation’s Playing Through. For more golf coverage, be sure to follow us @_PlayingThrough on all major social platforms. You can also follow her on Twitter @SportsGirlSL and Instagram @savannah_leigh_sports.

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