PONTE VEDRA BEACH, FLORIDA – MARCH 16: Hideki Matsuyama of Japan plays a shot from a bunker on the ninth hole during the third round of THE PLAYERS Championship at TPC Sawgrass on March 16, 2024 in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

Japanese star Hideki Matsuyama will be hoping his putter gets hot at THE PLAYERS Championship on Sunday after ending the third round in tied ninth place and seven shots behind new leader, Xander Schauffele of the U.S.

Matsuyama, a nine-time PGA TOUR winner, ground out a 4-under 68 at The Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass on Saturday as Schauffele overcame a four-shot deficit with a 65 to seize the 54-hole lead on 17-under from overnight leader Wyndham Clark (70). Reigning Open champion Brian Harman carded the days’ best of 64 for solo third in the TOUR’s flagship US$25 million tournament.

Chinese Taipei’s C.T. Pan battled to a 70 to sit in T12 on 9-under while 2017 PLAYERS champion Si Woo Kim of Korea shot his week’s best of 68 for 7-under.

It has been a frustrating past three days for Matsuyama, who ranks second in Strokes Gained: Tee to Green but a lowly 65th in Putting where he is losing 2.708 strokes to the field. “I’m still not making any putts,” said Matsuyama, who has three top-10s at THE PLAYERS including a solo fifth last year.

“Of the three days thus far, my stroke today felt the best. And given how I’ve been playing recently, to be able to still gain a few strokes back on my score today is something to be positive about and I’m hoping to roll that into my round tomorrow.”

The 2021 Masters champion will need little reminding that his most recent victory at the Genesis Invitational last month, which made him the winningest Asian golfer on the PGA TOUR, was a come-from-behind triumph. He had clawed his way from six shots back in the final round to win by three after a stunning 62 at Riviera against a stacked field.

“There’s quite a big gap between myself and the leaders, but I will do some preparation tonight and give it my best shot tomorrow,” said Matsuyama, who traded five birdies against a lone bogey in the third round.

Si Woo Kim, the youngest PLAYERS champion following his win in 2017, hit a stunning eagle two on the par-4 12th hole. He carded four other birdies against two bogeys, and will be targeting a first top-10 of the season after accumulating four top-25s from seven starts.

“It was kind of between driver and three wood and I hit a hard three wood. The contact was very good, it was a perfect number,” said Kim of his tee shot on 12th which landed five feet of the pin. “The greens were a bit soft but this is still a tough golf course. I’m happy and hopefully I’ll shoot like this tomorrow.”

With a career best score of 67 at TPC Sawgrass, Kim hopes to post a low number on Sunday. “When you get a hot start, you can go low. But if you struggle in the first few holes, it can be tricky. You have to be patient here and not attack every hole. I’ll just go out and play and avoid the big mistakes. Keep it simple and stay patient,” he said.

“When you win and have seven straight missed cuts, it becomes stressful. I’ll take playing good consistently and keep patient as the chances will come. My ball striking is way better than the last few years. Hopefully I can drop some putts and if I start to do that, I think I will have a chance to win soon. This is better for my brains.”

Chasing an eighth PGA TOUR victory, Schauffele produced a blemish-free 65 to earn his seventh career lead/co-lead through 54 holes. The World No. 6 scrambled beautifully all day with six up-and-down par saves, highlighted best by his par on the 18th hole where he chipped it to one foot from 35 yards after finding trouble from off the tee.

“At times in the past I’ll get a bit ahead of myself and lose a little bit of confidence when I shouldn’t. Today I tried to stay in my own little box there with Austin (his caddie) and not look at too many leaderboards when I didn’t have to, just because it’s Saturday, there’s no need to do that. I heard roars all around the property and I really just kind of stayed in my lane,” said Schauffele, whose last win was the 2022 Genesis Scottish Open.


Third-Round Notes – Saturday, March 16, 2024

Saturday weather: Mostly cloudy. High of 84. Wind W 6-12 mph.

Third-Round Leaderboard

Pos. Player R1 R2 R3 Total
1 Xander Schauffele 65 69 65 199 (-17)
2 Wyndham Clark 65 65 70 200 (-16)
3 Brian Harman 72 65 64 201 (-15)
T4 Maverick McNealy 67 68 68 203 (-13)
T4 Matt Fitzpatrick 66 69 68 203 (-13)


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