Top-ranked Scottie Scheffler, the reigning Masters champion, clung to a one-stroke lead when Saturday’s third round of the US PGA’s Tour Championship was suspended until Sunday due to lightning.
Tokyo Olympic champion Xander Schauffele was only one shot adrift when the last 14 players on the course were halted, setting up a tense last-day drama in the PGA’s season-ending showdown at East Lake in Atlanta.
Scheffler paced the 29-player field at 19-under par through 12 holes with playing partner and fellow American Schauffele on 18-under.
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As for the Australians, Cameron Smith completed his round for a two-under 68 and was tied 18th trailing Scheffler by 11 shots while Adam Scott (68) is another four back.
American Sam Burns, who is one shot ahead of Scott, provided a highlight of the day with a rare eagle dunk on hole 18.
Going back to Scheffler, the leader is not getting to ahead of himself.
“With a 72-hole event I think it’s still pretty early in the tournament,” Scheffler said.
“We’re all just kind of jockeying for position and I was just out there trying to hit some quality shots.”
South Korean Im Sung-jae was third on 16-under with four holes remaining, while four-time major winner Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland was fourth on 15-under and 5-under on the day through 16 holes.
Scheffler began the tournament with a four-stroke edge on Schauffele thanks to staggered-start scoring system based on season point totals, but Schauffele had trimmed that edge to two strokes after 36 holes.
After lightning caused a 58-minute delay in tee times before leaders teed off, Schauffele made a charge.
He sank a birdie putt from just outside 12 feet at the par-3 second hole and another from just past four feet at the third to match Scheffler for the lead at 19-under.
Schauffele paid the price for missing fairways with bogeys at the fourth and fifth holes, only to birdie the sixth and seventh — the latter on a 33-foot putt — to again equal Scheffler.
After seven pars, Scheffler holed a 12-foot birdie putt at the eighth to pull one stroke ahead and both leaders made bogeys at the par-3 11th after landing in bunkers, leaving Scheffler ahead when play was stopped.
“I wasn’t playing my best, but I was kind of hanging in there,” Scheffler said. “I was looking forward to giving myself some opportunities at the end, but then the horn went off.”
Play was set to resume Sunday morning with leaders teeing off in the final round in the early afternoon.
The staggered scoring system means whoever fires the week’s low 72-hole total will not necessarily win the $18 million ($A25m) top prize on offer from the FedEx Cup playoffs.
Scheffler, who hadn’t taken a PGA title when the year began, won four in two months capped by his first major title at Augusta National in April. He could complete an amazing season by capturing the playoff crown.
American Justin Thomas, this year’s PGA Championship winner, has a two-foot birdie putt at the 18th hole to match McIlroy on 15-under when play resumes.