Scheffler leads with Fleetwood & Rai in contention
Scottie Scheffler leads the Players Championship by two shots after a day of spectacular scoring in the third round at Sawgrass.
On a course softened by Friday’s rain, Scheffler moved to 14 under with a 65, ahead of Min Woo Lee on 12 under.
American Tom Hoge set a new course record with a 10-under 62.
Englishmen Tommy Fleetwood and Aaron Rai are five off the lead, with Rai’s hole-in-one on the 17th part of a birdie-eagle-birdie finish.
It is the first time anyone has managed that on the final three holes in Players Championship history at Sawgrass.
American Scheffler will return to the world number one spot if he wins the title on Sunday.
Historic day of low scoring
The Players Championship is without some big names for the final two rounds with Rory McIlroy and Matt Fitzpatrick missing the cut and current world number one Jon Rahm pulling out with a virus.
However, there was plenty to get excited about on Saturday with low numbers throughout the field, most notably Hoge’s historic 62, and the scoring average of 69.57 was the lowest ever at this Florida course in the unofficial ‘fifth major’.
Hoge’s 10 birdies moved him to eight under overall but that is still six back from Scheffler, who swapped and shared the lead with Australian Lee throughout the afternoon.
Masters champion Scheffler, who began two behind second-round leader Adam Svensson, enjoyed a fast start, birdieing the first and chipping in for eagle at the second.
He went out in a five-under 31 and after a run of six pars, ended in style with birdies on the 16th and 18th, the latter set up by a magnificent approach to the green.
Lee, the younger brother of US Women’s Open champion Minjee Lee, also had a spectacular opening, holing his second shot at the first for an eagle and five birdies were added to his card by the time he reached the 13th tee.
The only blemish came at the last when a five-foot par putt rolled around the hole but did not drop.
Canadian Svensson lost the lead early in his round but was level par for the day when he reached the 14th. A triple-bogey seven there led to a 75 and left him six under.
Rai joins Fleetwood in contention with spectacular finish
England’s Rai, 28, looked unlikely to appear on the upper reaches of the leaderboard when two bogeys in his first four holes left him one under overall, but birdies at the fifth, sixth, eighth and 11th moved him in the right direction.
He was still in the pack until his 4-1-3 finish, which vaulted him to nine under – the ace on the 17th, the signature hole at Sawgrass, sparking jubilant scenes.
Rai, who is from Wolverhampton and now lives close to the Sawgrass course at Ponte Vedra Beach, told Sky Sports of his hole-in-one: “It was incredible. It felt great off the face and when I looked up it felt perfect.
“I remember my caddie Jason [Timmis] running at me at full speed. I could not believe what had happened. It was almost a perfect shot, pitched in the perfect place.
“As soon as I saw it go in, I looked at the crowd on the left and saw a load of hands go up. It is something I will always remember.”
He is alongside Fleetwood, whose putting stroke looked extremely confident as he sank eight birdies with only one bogey.
Fleetwood and Rai are both seeking to become the first Englishman to win the Players Championship, which has previously been lifted by Scotland’s Sandy Lyle and Northern Ireland’s McIlroy.
They are one behind Australia’s Cam Davis (67) who is at 10 under, while also on nine under are American Chad Ramey (68) and South African Christiaan Bezuidenhout (69).
Justin Rose was also in the mix but a bogey on the 18th dropped him to seven under with a 67.
Hoge did not know he had broken course record
It was a special day for Hoge, who has only ever had one top-10 finish at a major championship and has not been ranked higher than 29th in the world.
The 33-year-old had expected to miss the cut after a six-over 78 on Thursday and was scheduled to be on an afternoon flight back to Dallas.
However, he had to cancel his travel plans after finding out that he had scraped through at the end of the storm-delayed second round, which was completed on Saturday.
He made the most of his reprieve with 10 birdies and eight pars in an almost flawless display, even if he joked that the on-course dining options had left him famished.
Hoge said he “didn’t even know it was a course record until after we got done”, possibly because he started at the 10th and so broke the record with a birdie on the ninth green watched by fewer spectators than were on the 18th.
“It feels great,” he said. “I felt fortunate to get a tee time here today. At one point I was booking a flight to head home this afternoon because it was looking like I was going to miss the cut.
“It’s actually my complaint here this week… the food is too healthy in player dining. A lot of vegetables. I need a cheeseburger or something.”
Hoge’s feat means he has surpassed nine players and a host of major winners, including Fred Couples, Greg Norman, Brooks Koepka and Dustin Johnson, who were tied on the old record of 63.