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13D AGO

Rory McIlroy, Xander Schauffele set for Sunday showdown at Wells Fargo Championship

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    Written by Sean Martin @PGATOURSMartin

    CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Sunday at the Wells Fargo Championship will see a showdown between two of the top five players in the world. It’s the sort of scenario that the Signature Events were made for.

    But the two players who have pulled away from the pack also will be seeking much-needed wins. Xander Schauffele, who will start Sunday with a one-shot lead over Rory McIlroy, is seeking his first PGA TOUR victory in nearly two years. His closest pursuer also hasn’t won an individual title on U.S. soil since 2022.

    There’s a good chance they won’t have to worry about anyone else.

    McIlroy is the only player within three shots of Schauffele. The two will play in the final group for the second consecutive day. Sungjae Im is in third place, four shots behind Schauffele, and Sepp Straka is another stroke back.

    Both Schauffele and McIlroy are seeing the benefits of recent swing changes as they pursue another PGA TOUR title. Schauffele changed coaches to Chris Como at the end of 2023 and has been the third-best player on TOUR this year, trailing only Scottie Scheffler and Wyndham Clark in Strokes Gained: Total. Schauffele has seven top-10 finishes in 11 starts this season.


    Xander Schauffele on switching swing coaches


    Unlike the other two, though, Schauffele is still seeking his first win of 2024. He was winless in 2023 after winning a career-high three times the year prior. To win Sunday, Schauffele will need to beat the player who has become synonymous with this place. McIlroy has won three times at Quail Hollow and twice set the course record here.

    "I'm going to have to earn it tomorrow,” Schauffele said. “I've got Rory breathing down my neck.”

    McIlroy has been victorious twice this year. He teamed with Shane Lowry to win the Zurich Classic of New Orleans two weeks ago, a victory that rejuvenated both players and helped McIlroy find the freedom that leads to his best golf. McIlroy also won his fourth Dubai Desert Classic on the DP World Tour in January. That was his fourth win in that event, and now he is trying to win the Wells Fargo for a fourth time.

    McIlroy struggled between those wins, though. He had five consecutive PGA TOUR finishes outside the top 20, a stretch that preceded McIlroy’s pilgrimage to see Butch Harmon in Las Vegas. McIlroy finished third at the Valero Texas Open but again was outside the top 20 at both the Masters (T22) and RBC Heritage (T33).

    The lesson with Harmon focused on McIlroy’s iron play. McIlroy said he found a key to his driving during his win in New Orleans, and it has carried over this week. His familiarity with Quail Hollow also helps him swing freely.

    “Every time I hit a good tee shot, the more confidence I get,” McIlroy said, “and then the more I want to just keep hitting it.”

    He leads the field in SG: Off-the-Tee (+5.39) and Driving Distance. His average driving distance on all tee shots this week is 325 yards, 10 yards longer than the No. 2 player in that stat. He hit 10 tee shots over 320 yards Saturday, including five tee shots over 340 yards.

    McIlroy also has excelled with his iron play this week, ranking third in SG: Approach-the-Green. He has been bogey-free over the past 36 holes.

    “I've holed out pretty well for the most part inside 6 feet, and then I think because I know this golf course so well, I've missed it in the right spots when I have missed the green,” McIlroy said. “To play two rounds in a row on this golf course in these conditions bogey-free is a bit of a feather in my cap, I'm pretty proud of that.”

    A victory Sunday would be McIlroy’s first individual PGA TOUR title since the Genesis Scottish Open last July. His previous PGA TOUR victory before that was THE CJ CUP in South Carolina in the fall of 2022. Schauffele preceded McIlroy with a win at the Scottish Open; his victory at Renaissance Club in 2022 is his most recent PGA TOUR win.


    Rory McIlroy’s Round 3 highlights from Wells Fargo Championship


    This will be the second consecutive year that Schauffele will play in the Wells Fargo’s final group. He entered last year’s final round two shots behind Clark, shooting 70 to finish four back. Quail Hollow’s greens were resurfaced after last year’s tournament, and the new putting surfaces are still firm despite rains earlier in the week. On Saturday, players averaged nearly two strokes over par (72.8) on the par-71 course.

    Like McIlroy, Schauffele has separated himself from the field with his ball-striking. He is third in SG: Off-the-Tee and second in SG: Approach-the-Green. Schauffele also has hit the most greens this week despite hitting just 10 on Saturday. He only made one bogey in the third round, however. Schauffele has gained clubhead speed since he started working with Como but admitted earlier this week that he needs to resist the temptation to swing too hard because it messes up his transition.

    That can be difficult to do when playing with McIlroy, however. He hit several tee shots 50 yards past Schauffele on Saturday.

    “I think I just like walking ahead of guys in general,” said McIlroy, “like them to be looking at my back.”

    Schauffele may lead at Quail Hollow, but McIlroy is always the man to beat here. Whoever wins Sunday will have earned a victory that was worth the wait.

    Sean Martin is a senior editor for the PGA TOUR. He is a 2004 graduate of Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo. Attending a small school gave him a heart for the underdog, which is why he enjoys telling stories of golf's lesser-known players. Follow Sean Martin on Twitter.

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