Scheffler fires to 63, takes charge at RBC Heritage

HILTON HEAD ISLAND, SC — Scottie Scheffler drilled his opening tee shot — straight down the middle, of course — with a grandstand packed with spectators behind him. What got his attention was when he looked back from the green and saw that it was empty.

Thousands of fans didn’t want to miss the Masters champion on Saturday in the RBC Heritage, and Scheffler didn’t disappoint.

His shots were like lasers into the greens as he quickly worked his way into the lead and stayed there. One last birdie on the 18th hole at Harbor Town gave Scheffler a bogey-free 63 and a one-shot lead over Sepp Straka.

“It felt to me like the crowd was coming with me today, and there was definitely a lot of cheers out there,” Scheffler said. “I’ve always enjoyed playing in front of a crowd. It may not look like I’m paying a lot of attention to them out there, but I can feel their energy, and it’s great to have the support.”

He won a green jacket last week, perhaps a plaid jacket from Harbor Town this week. Scheffler wasn’t kidding when he talked about how much he hates to lose.

At stake today is a fourth win in his last five starts, and a chance to become the first player since Bernhard Langer in 1985 to win the Masters and the next PGA Tour stop on the schedule. The only other Masters champion to do that was Gary Player in 1978.

“I think when I’m playing my best, sometimes it feels like I’m competing against myself a little bit out there, trying to keep pushing and stay as focused as I can,” Scheffler said.

“At the end of the day, we’re out here competing against the best players in the world. I love competing against these guys, and I’m looking forward to the challenge of coming out and competing tomorrow.”

Scheffler was at 16-under 197. Straka made a 15-foot birdie putt on the last hole for a 65 to get within one shot. They will be in the final group today, with a different wind and thunderstorms in the forecast.

Two-time major Collin Morikawa made one mistake late, coming up short of the 16th green and missing a 10-foot par putt. He had a 68 and was two shots behind. Masters runner-up Ludvig Aberg (68) was among those three shots back.

Former University of Arkansas golfer Taylor Moore shot a 71 on Saturday and stands at 4-under 209.

All of them are chasing the No. 1 player in the world in the midst of a dominant stretch of golf not seen since Tiger Woods in his prime.

Scheffler has gone 51 consecutive holes at par or better at Harbor Town. He posted his 39th consecutive round at par or better dating to the Tour Championship last August.

“I think we all expect him to play well, and there’s nothing I can do about it,” Aberg said. “All I try to do is focus on myself and make sure that I hit the shots the way I want to and then see where that takes me.”

Scheffler started three shots behind and was already tied for the lead with a tee shot to a pin at the back right corner of the 221-yard seventh hole, converting a 10-foot birdie.

Even the bad breaks led to birdies. On the reachable par-4 ninth, his drive stopped short of the bunker on a down slope of grass, leaving him a flop shot to a short pin with the green running away from him. All he could manage was a pitch to 35 feet. He rammed home the birdie putt, and never really stopped until finishing with a 7-foot birdie on the 18th.

For a moment, it was setting up as a duel with Aberg, the Swedish stud who has been a pro for 10 months and is already considered as Scheffler’s biggest threat because he never seems to miss. But he missed a drive on the 12th into the trees and made bogey to fall out of a share of the lead, and Aberg had to settle for pars the rest of the way.

The crowds were particularly large in the warm and sunshine, often lining the entire fairway two- and three-deep to watch golf’s newest sensation. Scheffler has three wins and a runner-up finish in his last four tournaments.

The only player to beat him was Stephan Jaeger by one shot in the Houston Open — Scheffler missed a 5-foot putt that would have forced a playoff. They played together for the first time since then and Jaeger held his own with a 67.

Against Scheffler these days, that’s just not enough.

Scheffler wasn’t entirely prepared for this week. Winning can be draining, even more when it involves a Masters green jacket. He flew home to Dallas on Sunday night, spent two days with his pregnant wife, managed nine holes of a pro-am at Harbor Town and here he is again.

Patrick Rodgers is the only player within five shots of Scheffler who has yet to win on the PGA Tour. The former Stanford star has felt his game was in a good place and he was hopeful of getting another chance. And then he saw Scheffler’s name starting to rise on the scoreboards as he was starting his round. Rodgers hung in there with a 68.

“It feels inevitable at this point,” Rodgers said. “His ball-striking is incredible. For me to have a chance tomorrow, I’m going to have to play 18 great holes. And I’m looking forward to the challenge.”

Scottie Scheffler hits from the fairway on the 15th hole during the third round of the RBC Heritage golf tournament, Saturday, April 20, 2024, in Hilton Head Island, SC (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

Tom Hoge watches his tee shot on the second hole during the third round of the RBC Heritage golf tournament, Saturday, April 20, 2024, in Hilton Head Island, SC (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)
photo Scottie Scheffler hits his tee shot on the 17th hole during the third round of the RBC Heritage golf tournament, Saturday, April 20, 2024, in Hilton Head Island, SC (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)
photo Scottie Scheffler holds the trophy after winning on the 10th hole during the third round of the RBC Heritage golf tournament, Saturday, April 20, 2024, in Hilton Head Island, SC (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)
photo Scottie Scheffler hits from the fairway on the 15th hole during the third round of the RBC Heritage golf tournament, Saturday, April 20, 2024, in Hilton Head Island, SC (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)
photo Scottie Scheffler chips to the green on the 15th hole during the third round of the RBC Heritage golf tournament, Saturday, April 20, 2024, in Hilton Head Island, SC (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)
photo Sepp Straka, of Austria, watches his tee shot on the second hole during the third round of the RBC Heritage golf tournament, Saturday, April 20, 2024, in Hilton Head Island, SC (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)
photo Collin Morikawa hits from the bunker on the 17th hole during the third round of the RBC Heritage golf tournament, Saturday, April 20, 2024, in Hilton Head Island, SC (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)
photo Collin Morikawa hits his tee shot on the 18th hole during the third round of the RBC Heritage golf tournament, Saturday, April 20, 2024, in Hilton Head Island, SC (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)
 
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