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Golf: Akshay slips at the end of Round 3, Scheffler moves into sole lead in Augusta

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Augusta, April 14 (IANS) Indian American Akshay Bhatia suffered a three-shot loss in a matter of two holes on 16-17 and with it may have lost a chance to bid for a Top-10 like Sahith Theegala a year ago.

Bhatia (72-75-72), 22, already a twice winner on the PGA Tour, was 5-over and T-28, while another Indian American Sahith Theegala shot a third straight 74 to get to get 6-over and T-36.

World No. 1 Scheffler played a roller-coaster of a back nine with two each of birdies and bogeys, besides an eagle and a double in his second nine. With 66-72-71 he is now 7-under and in sole lead.

Two ahead of the field, Scheffler experienced a tale of two nines. He is trailed by two-time Major winner, Collin Morikawa (6-under) and they in turn are being chased by Max Homa (5-under), rookie Ludvig Aberg (4-under) and Bryson DeChambeau (3-under).

Five-time Masters winner Tiger Woods carded his worst score at Augusta National, shooting an 82 as he slipped down the leaderboard after making a record number of straight cuts, a day earlier.

Starting at 3-Under on first two days, Morikawa began the third round with three birdies and put pressure on Scheffler, who birdied the first and third but dropped a shot on fourth. Morikawa was now within one of the lead, but after that, he dropped a shot on the sixth but got it back on the eighth. Any hopes of continuing the charge disappeared as he missed a lot of putts and ended with a series of 10 pars for 68, the second score of the day and it came after 71-70 on the first two days.

Homa, bidding for a maiden Major, had just one and no bogeys on another tough day at the Club. He had pars in the other 17.

Scheffler, who was a co-leader at the start of the third day, seemed to pull away before he came back. While Scheffler (71) is 7-under, Morikawa is 6-under and Homa is 5-under.

Rookie on the Tour, Ludvig Aberg (70), 4-under, ager having gone up to 6-under at one stage after 15. However dropped shots on 14-15 pulled him back he was 4-under.

Trying to win a second Green Jacket to go with the one he won in 2022, Scheffler overcame a tough day but still he stayed on course for his career's second major victory.

"I think I'll have a better understanding of what the morning is like tomorrow. But, yeah, proud of how I played today. It was a good fight out there. The golf course was extremely challenging. The greens were very firm, very fast, and it was extremely difficult again today. So probably looking for more of the same tomorrow," said Scheffler, who won the Arnold Palmer Invitational and The Players Championship last month.

Morikawa said, "If you asked me at the beginning of the week I'd be 1 back heading into Sunday, I would have taken that any time. You give yourself a chance with 18 holes left, that's all you can really do and everything that you practice for. It all comes together tomorrow hopefully. But it's going to be a grind, and I'm looking forward to that."

Akshay Bhatia, asked about mental fatigue, "This is seven weeks in a row for me playing. It's just a lot of golf. Then when you come to a major last minute, especially with the highs of winning, it's pretty challenging, So it's something I haven't learned to do yet. When I won, I had a week off. Coming to Augusta National is really hard, and trying to prepare but not too much, it's just a fine balance."

Overnight co-leader Bryson DeChambeau also experienced both agony and ecstasy. The stretch between the ninth and 16th saw him drop bogeys four times and he also had a doble bogey and the only compensation for that was two birdies. He shot 75 and dropped from shared lead to fifth.

Korea's Byeong Hun An staged another valiant comeback after a difficult start to salvage a gutsy even-par 72 in the third round of the Masters Tournament. He was best placed for a best-ever finish in the year’s first major.

An, a five-time PGA Tour runner-up, brilliantly birdied Hole Nos. 16 and 17 before sinking a clutch eight-foot putt for par at Augusta National for tied ninth place on 1-under 215, six shots behind 54-hole leader, Scheffler.

An will be looking to mount a strong push in Sunday's finale, fully aware of the stakes at hand.

With his current position, the 32-year-old Korean is poised to achieve his best-ever result at the Masters in his five appearances, surpassing his previous best of T33 in 2017. Maintaining his position within the top 12 is also crucial as it would guarantee a return to Augusta National next year.

Hideki Matsuyama of Japan, the 2021 Masters winner, shot his week's best 71 to rise to T28 at 221. He has finished inside the top 20 in eight of his nine appearances.

Korean duo Siwoo Kim and Tom Kim, the other two Asian competitors who made the halfway cut, registered a 73 and 77 to sit in T41 and T52 respectively.

--IANS

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