May 13, 2023 -McKINNEY, Texas (AP) — Scottie Scheffler is looking up on the leaderboard at the AT&T Byron Nelson at a couple of contemporaries without nearly the resume the Dallas resident has built over the past 15 months.
In fact, Austin Eckroat and China’s Marty Dou are seeking a first PGA Tour victory.
The Oklahoma-raised Eckroat shot an 8-under 63, one better than Dou, and the pair shared a two-shot lead with Texan Ryan Palmer at 16 under after the third round of the Nelson on Saturday.
Scheffler was in the group at 14 under after the hometown favorite faltered with a bogey at the par-5 18th when his second shot hit the lip of a fairway bunker and stayed in it.
Palmer had an eagle putt for the outright lead on 18, but the 35-footer stopped just short, leaving him at 68. Scheffler shot even-par 71 after the best two-round start to his career with a pair of 64s.
Dou, who lives in the Dallas area and is on his home course at the TPC Craig Ranch, is the same age as the 26-year-old Scheffler. Eckroat is just two years younger and says he played plenty of golf “from all ages” with the former Texas Longhorn.
They might as well be years apart on pedigree.
Scheffler has the 2022 Masters title among six career victories — all since February of last year — and knows he will be in the field for the PGA Championship next week at Oak Hill.
Eckroat would appreciate the spot in the field at Oak Hill that a win at the Nelson would earn him. The former Oklahoma State player has plenty at stake regardless.
“A lot of job security,” Eckroat said. “A lot of things come with winning a PGA Tour event, and just hoping to get that done.”
Dou, who settled in the Dallas area about five years ago so he could pursue a career in golf, doesn’t even want to think about what a victory would mean in his home country.
“It’s going to be big for sure,” said Dou, a three-time winner on the Korn Ferry Tour. “There is a whole lot more golf to play, so I’m in good in the position like this, creating more chances, and that’s all I’m thinking.”
Vincent Norrman of Sweden shot 65 and was at 14 under with Scheffler, Jason Day (66) and Si Woo Kim (68). There were 25 players within five shots of the lead.
Tyrrell Hatton, at No. 17 the second-highest ranked player in the field behind No. 2 Scheffler, shot 65 and was 13 under alongside Patton Kizzire (64), Sung Kang (66) and Richy Werenski (68).
Eckroat had just one par on the front nine, answering a double-bogey at the par-3 seventh with his sixth and seventh birdies before the turn. The back nine was much more routine — six pars and three birdies.
“It just didn’t really faze me like it normally would,” Eckroat said. “Really happy how I handled that.”
Dou opened with a 63 that was overshadowed by a course record-tying 60 from South Korean S.Y. Noh, who had a second consecutive over-par around at 73 to fall out of contention.
After a 1-under 70 left him five shots behind Scheffler through two rounds, Dou quietly crept up the leaderboard before a 28-foot birdie putt on No. 16 put him in a tie for the lead.
Dou won’t have to worry about the large crowds following Scheffler, whose late flub kept him out of the final group. But he is a 54-hole leader for the first time.
“I think nerves is the same thing as me playing on the Korn Ferry,” Dou said. “You get into it and you’re going to be nervous no matter what.”
Scheffler could have taken a two-shot lead at the par-4 12th but missed a short birdie putt on the second-toughest hole, which was converted after playing as a par-5 in the Nelson’s first two years at the TPC Craig Ranch.
He missed two more decent chances at birdie on the back nine before the trouble on 18, when he also missed the green on an easy approach shot after finally getting out of the bunker.
“I just thinned it,” Scheffler said of the first bunker shot. “I wasn’t even thinking about the lip. I just hit a terrible shot.”
Palmer, a four-time winner on tour without a solo victory in 13 years, had a shaky start to the back nine before finishing with three birdies in five holes, capped by the tap-in at 18.
“It was a patient day,” said the 46-year-old Palmer, who grew up in West Texas but lives in the Dallas area. “I knew I was going to be one or two back, worst case. It’s going to be nice to be in the final group again, and we’ll give it our all.”
Two-time defending champion K.H. Lee shot a second consecutive 68 and was 7-under. The last player to win a PGA Tour event three consecutive times was Steve Stricker at the John Deere Classic from 2009-11.