Wyndham Clark Setting Pace At Players While Scheffler Copes With Neck Pain

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Scottie Scheffler had his 25th consecutive round under par Friday in The Players Championship, and this was hard work. He felt pain in his neck that required treatment on the course, and he struggled to swing and to stay within range of Wyndham Clark.

Feeling fit or not, that turned out to be the goal for everyone.

Clark was playing in the group behind, oblivious to Scheffler’s injury or anything else. He ran off four straight birdies on the front nine and finished with a 7-under 65, one shot short of the 36-hole record at the TPC Sawgrass.

He had a four-shot lead over Xander Schauffele (69) and Nick Taylor (68), who played in the afternoon and had to cope with warm, breezy conditions on greens that remained surprisingly soft on the Stadium Course.

Scheffler was simply happy to be done. He felt something wrong on his fourth full swing of the day, a shot that went left on the par-5 11th that kept him from a good look at birdie. He got treatment before his tee shots on three straight holes and managed a 3-under 69.

“I felt a little something in my neck, and then I tried to hit my tee shot on 12, and that’s when I could barely get the club back,” Scheffler said through a PGA Tour official. “So I got some treatment, maybe loosened it up a tiny bit. But most of the day, I was pretty much laboring to get the club somehow away from me.”

The hope for Scheffler is he would have free range by the weekend. The concern is that he already was No. 1 in the world and appearing to hit another gear coming off his five-shot victory last week at Bay Hill until this injury interruption.

Clark is proving each week to be a serious challenger no matter Scheffler’s condition.

The U.S. Open champion already shot 60 at Pebble Beach to win in 54 holes because of weather, and he was the only player who mounted any challenge against Scheffler at Bay Hill last week, finishing runner-up.

He got through the back nine on another calm, sunny morning in 1 under and then started hitting everything close to perfect — a wedge to 18 inches on No. 1, a simple up-and-down for birdie on the par-5 second, a 12-foot birdie putt on the par-3 third and a wedge to 4 feet on the fourth hole.

“I’m just super excited that kind of had a ho-hum front nine and then turned and really just got into a nice zone and felt really good on the greens and shot an awesome number,” Clark said.

He closed with a birdie for a 30 on the front nine and was at 14-under 130. The 36-hole recordholder for The Players is Webb Simpson in 2018.

Schauffele has only one blunder through 36 holes, a hybrid he hit into the water on the par-5 11th that led to double bogey. He got that back with a 7-iron into the par-5 16th for eagle and at least worked his way into the final group.

He got there with a 6-iron off the pine straw and under the trees onto the 18th green for par.

“I wanted to be in the final group as often as possible, especially being four shots back,” Schauffele said.

Taylor had three bogeys, each time answering with a birdie to stay in the mix.

Former U.S. Open champion Matt Fitzpatrick had a double bogey on No. 4 that slowed his momentum. He had to settle for a 69 and was five shots behind, along with Maverick McNealy, who finished with a 67 in the morning and followed with a 68.

Scheffler was in the group at 8-under 136, and by the sound of it, he was happy to be there.

“I did enough to keep myself somewhat in the tournament, and so that’s really all I could ask for,” Scheffler said. “The way I was getting around the course, the way my neck was feeling, I didn’t know if I was going to be able to continue playing. So yeah, good fight out there.”

At least he’s still playing. Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth and Will Zalatoris were among those set to miss the cut — Spieth for the sixth time in 10 appearances, Thomas for the first time. The second round was to be completed Saturday morning because of darkness.

Rory McIlroy didn’t make a par until the seventh hole in a wild round of 73 that left him eight shots behind Clark.

Scheffler converted two of his four birdie chances at the start, but then he walked briskly up the hill toward the 14th tee with his physio, Marnus Marais. He sat on a chair behind the 14th tee with Marais working on him.

Scheffler drilled his drive down the middle and had a 20-foot birdie chance. Then he walked through the palmetto bushes, away from spectators, for more work. Thomas and Rickie Fowler hit their tee shots and waited on Scheffler. The same scene played out after the 15th.

Clark, meanwhile, looks to be a daunting target. A year ago at The Players Championship, hardly anyone knew who he was. But the 29-year-old from Denver is working his way into the elite in golf as much with his big titles — two signature events and one major — as his No. 5 world ranking.