Scottie Scheffler is a 23-year-old first-year PGA Tour pro who seems as comfortable walking fairways in a $6.7-million golf tournament as he’d be watching his beloved Longhorns back home in his Texas living room.
He played almost flawless golf Saturday in the third round of the American Express at the PGA West Stadium Course, firing a bogey-free, six-under-par 66 to take a share of the lead with Andrew Landry at 21 under.
Scheffler led the field in accuracy hitting into the greens, hit 14 of 18 fairways off the tee, and combined that with a couple of strokes of luck that will leave him paired with fellow Texas resident Landry and Rickie Fowler in Sunday’s final grouping.
On the par-five 16th hole, Scheffler uncharacteristically missed the green with his third shot from 98 yards, then lined a chip shot that, fortunately for him, hit the flagstick squarely, bouncing only three feet away. He saved par.
On the difficult 18th, he pulled a three-wood toward the water lining the left side of the fairway. The ball caromed off the rocks bordering the water, back onto the fairway, and he parred the hole.
“Yeah, it was a great bounce,” he said. “Worst swing of the day, ended up with par, so I feel pretty good about it.”
The squarely struck flagstick on 16? “Good line, I guess,” he said, smiling. “Not going to turn down a break like that either.”
Landry, who has struggled mightily with his game since last fall but has played extremely well here, shot a seven-under 65 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course. His only hiccup was a bogey from the sand on the par-three eighth hole, his 17th.
After losing in a four-hole playoff here to Jon Rahm two years ago, then winning his only tour event two months later at the Valero Texas Open, Landry has had some difficulty maintaining the level of play he knows he’s capable of.
Last season, he played serviceable, if unspectacular, golf with four top-25 finishes, but in the fall series of the 2019-2020 season, he missed five of six cuts, then missed the cut again at the Sony Open in Hawaii in January.
“Honestly, my golf game has just been so up and down,” he said. “I haven’t been able to just be consistent. ... It’s either I’m in the hunt or I’m missing the cut. It gets frustrating.”
Fowler, who shared the lead with Scheffler after the second round, is alone in third four strokes off the lead after a 70 on the Stadium Course. He heads a long list of challengers who will try to chase down Scheffler and Landry and is a shot ahead of Ryan Moore (67 Stadium) and Chase Seiffert (67 Nicklaus).
Fowler bogeyed two of his first seven holes, but four birdies after that got him back on track.
“A couple of mental errors cost me,” he said. “But I thought I did a good job of hanging around, not getting too far behind.”
Three players stand at 15 under, six off the lead, and 11 more are at 14 under.
Tournament host Phil Mickelson was a casualty. He shot a 71 on the Stadium Course to finish at three under, six shots above the cut line.
Despite the bogey on his 17th hole, Landry was extremely pleased with his round and with the way he’s been playing this week.
“Yeah, just kind of everything’s been really dialed in,” said Landry, who finished tied for 28th here last year. “So I just need to continue to do my own thing and continue to be putting the way that I’ve been putting and it’s going to be a fun day tomorrow.”
Scheffler won twice and was player of the year on the Korn Ferry Tour last year. He doesn’t expect to be caught up in the moment in Sunday’s final group.
“I think winning is pretty similar at all levels of the game,” he said, “and I feel like I’ve done a good job of closing tournaments out, especially on the Korn Ferry Tour. So looking back on that experience should definitely help.”
Since joining the tour in the fall, Scheffler has made the cut in all seven events he has played and has finished in the top seven three times. In those tournaments, he amassed 139 birdies and eagles, No. 1 on tour. Birdies fit well here.
“This is a pretty relaxing week as far as a tournament goes,” Scheffler said. “I feel comfortable out here, which is nice. I got a lot of friends out here on the tour, and this is where I feel like I belong.”