Scheffler (66) in 5-way tie for Houston Open lead

Scheffler (66) in 5-way tie for Houston Open lead
By: ESPN GOLF Posted On: March 31, 2024 View: 39

HOUSTON -- Scottie Scheffler made double bogey from what he thought was a good shot, responded with back-to-back birdies and finished with a 4-under 66 on Saturday to be part of a five-way tie for the lead in the Houston Open.

Scheffler is trying to become the first player since Dustin Johnson in 2017 to win three consecutive PGA Tour starts, and he would appear to be in the pole position among players with so little experience at winning on tour.

David Skinns, a 42-year-old from England, had a 65 and was the first to post at 9-under 201. He was joined by Stephan Jaeger of Germany (66), Thomas Detry of Belgium (67) and Alejandro Tosti of Argentina (68), all of them trying to win on the PGA Tour for the first time.

Three others with one PGA Tour win, including U.S. Amateur champion Nick Dunlap, were another shot behind.

Tony Finau, who had a two-shot lead going into the third round, didn't make a birdie until the 13th hole on another blustery day at Memorial Park. He salvaged a 72 and was still in the thick of it, just two shots behind.

Scheffler, the world's No. 1 player, is coming off victories at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and The Players Championship.

"Winning the last two doesn't help me do anything tomorrow," Scheffler said. "I think it's going to be another pretty challenging day out there with high winds. Stick to my process and control what I can control out there."

Some things were out of his control at Memorial Park.

It was crowded at the top for so much of the day. Scheffler joined the chase with four birdies in a five-hole stretch around the turn, and looked to be on the verge of seizing control. But he turned a birdie chance into bogey when his pitch on the reachable par-4 13th went over the green and he was fortunate his next chip didn't come back to his feet.

But what flummoxed him was the par-3 15th, with the tee and pin moved forward, making the hole play a mere 121 yards with narrow margins for the miss. Scheffler's tee shot landed about 6 feet from the hole and he heard the gallery cheers -- and then groan.

The ball spun back just enough to catch a slope, then a steeper slope in front of the green, and it kept rolling right through the rough and into the water. Scheffler covered his mouth with his hand and then began to laugh.

"What are you going to do?" he said to his caddie.

The only option was to take a penalty drop, and he failed to get up-and-down for his second double bogey in two days.

"I didn't expect it to spin back, I didn't expect it to spin back off the green and I didn't expect it to be in the water," he said.

But he answered with a 4-iron to the green on the par-5 16th and another great shot to a tough pin to 4 feet for birdie on the 17th.

Tosti, trying to become the fourth PGA Tour rookie to win this early in the season, overcame a double bogey on the par-3 second when he four-putted (the first one went off the green), and he had plenty of passion and fire the rest of the way.

Dunlap became the first amateur in 33 years to win on the PGA Tour at The American Express in January, turned pro and it has been a struggle since then. He was at dinner with his caddie Friday night trying to figure what needed to be better. He found a solution.

"All I tried to do today was play perfect with what I had, not necessarily like perfect golf but getting the easy ones up and down, not three-putting," Dunlap said.

Part of that equation was seven birdies for a 63, and he goes into Sunday with a chance to win. Also at 8-under 202 were Taylor Moore, who won the Valspar Championship a year ago, and Akshay Bhatia, who won the Barracuda Championship last summer. They each shot 67.

Finau was about the only player who couldn't get anything going. One day after making just about everything, he kept missing with the putter -- two par putts from inside 10 feet and two birdie chances from about the same range.

He drove the 13th green and two-putted for his first birdie, only to hit into the water on the 15th, escaping with bogey. And then on the par-5 16th, his second shot bounced left and into the water, spelling more trouble. But he chipped in for birdie after his penalty drop and was well within range of Scheffler and everyone else going into Sunday.

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