NASSAU, Bahamas — Scottie Scheffler may have found a new favorite club.
The world No. 1 inserted a putter in the bag for a tryout this week at the Hero World Challenge and ranks third in the field in Strokes Gained: Putting. On Saturday, he made two eagles and four birdies and posted 7-under 65 at Albany to build a three-stroke lead over Englishman Matt Fitzpatrick.
“Nice to see some putts go in,” Scheffler said. “I’ve been rolling it pretty solid. These greens can be tough to putt at times, but like I said, I’m rolling it good.”
Indeed, he is. Scheffler is using a heel-toe weighted blade made by little-known puttermaker Olson Putter Co.
“It’s very similar to some stuff that I used in the past,” Scheffler explained. “It has a little thing on the top that helps me line the ball up more consistently in the middle of the face, and then obviously the grip is different than what I’ve used in the past, but that’s something that Phil (Kenyon) and I have worked on together.”
Scheffler’s 65 tied for the low round of the day with Fitzpatrick, and lifted him to a 54-hole total of 16-under 200.
Scheffler, who last won on the PGA Tour at the Players Championship in March, finished runner-up at the Hero World Challenge the last two years. Both times he said he needed a strong back nine to flirt with contention, but Viktor Hovland closed the deal.
“Hopefully,” Scheffler said, “I have one more good back nine in me.”
Here are four more things to know about the third round of the Hero World Challenge.
Fitzy on island time
Matt Fitzpatrick is taking things in stride this week, and it’s working. The Englishman shot 7-under 65 on Saturday, tying for the low round of the day and the tournament. But to hear the 2022 U.S. Open champion tell it, he’s not stressing over his play too much and enjoying the chill vibe of the 20-man, no-cut affair.
“This is a vacation week, so yeah, I’m just trying to play as well as I can and yeah, I’m just having an enjoyable week,” he said. “Got friends here, my fiancee’s here. Yeah, we’re having a good laugh.”
Fitzpatrick is solo second and playing in the final group on Sunday alongside Scheffler just as they did in the BMW Championship in August. On that occasion, Viktor Hovland raced past them both thanks to a hot putter. This time, Hovland is way back in the pack and Fitzpatrick is the one wielding a warm putter.
“I had a really good session with Phil Kenyon, my putting coach, this weekend on Saturday and Sunday. It made a huge difference to how I felt. Yeah, obviously shown this week,” he said. “So far, so good.”
The putting whisperer
Phil Kenyon was the busiest man on the practice green Wednesday. Of the 20-man field, he said he has five players in the field this week. I photographed him helping Scheffler, Fitzpatrick, Max Homa and Justin Rose. Through 54 holes, Fitzpatrick is first in Strokes Gained: Putting and Scheffler, who this season ranked No. 162 in SGP (-0.301), is not far behind at third. Fitzpatrick gained more than 2 ½ strokes on Saturday alone. Rose and Scheffler were both T-4 for the round; Homa, however, lost more than 2 strokes. But clearly Kenyon deserves some praise for his powers in the art of putting.
“For me it’s just how hard he’s worked to become as good as he’s become,” Fitzpatrick said. “If you ask him a question, he knows the answer and it’s not just a made-up answer. And if he don’t know a question, he’ll tell you he doesn’t know and he’ll go find out. For me it’s the hard work he puts in behind the scenes for himself to become better, that’s why he’s so good.”
No three-peat for Viktor
Viktor Hovland was trying to do something that not even five-time Hero champion Tiger Woods had ever done: win the tournament three consecutive times.
But Hovland’s game has been off this week. The FedEx Cup champ started slowly with a pair of 73s. On Saturday, he was paired with Tiger Woods for the second time in his career and shot 2-under 70 to get back to even-par 216 through three rounds, 16 strokes off Scheffler’s lead.
“I’ve just played like [crap],” he said. “That’s golf, it happens.”
Even to the hottest player on the planet.
Burns-Woods Sunday Fun-day pairing
Tiger Woods has played with “little brother” Justin Thomas, fan favorite Rickie Fowler, FedEx Cup champion Viktor Hovland, and on Sunday he’s paired with Sam Burns.
Back in 2018, before Burns was a five-time Tour winner and Ryder and Presidents Cup member of Team USA, he was a little-known pro who finished top-10 at the Valspar Championship to earn his way into the Honda Classic the following week, just his 14th career Tour start at the time. He played well enough to be paired on Sunday with Woods, who was making a comeback from back surgery at the time. Burns bested Woods, shooting 68 to his 70. He also had the line of the week. Walking down the first fairway, he turned to Tiger and said, “Man, it’s crazy all these people who came out to watch me today, isn’t it?”
Expect the biggest crowd of the day to be following Burns and the guy in the red shirt on Sunday.