Xander Schauffele’s strong finish injects drama into TOUR Championship
August 26, 2022
By Sean Martin , PGATOUR.COM
Xander Schauffele throws a dart at flagstick to set up eagle at TOUR Championship
ATLANTA – Scottie Scheffler’s coronation has been put on hold.
The man who’s led the FedExCup for the majority of the season was pulling away from the field early in the second round, raising the possibility that the TOUR Championship’s second half would be little more than a celebration of his impressive season.
Send back the balloons. Save the cake. Xander Schauffele changed everything over Friday’s final three holes.
It wouldn’t be a TOUR Championship without Schauffele in contention. He may have grown up on Southern California’s poa annua greens but he took an immediate liking to East Lake when he came here five years ago as a TOUR rookie. He won that year and has been runner-up in two of the three editions since the Starting Strokes format was introduced.
He’s back in contention after finishing birdie-birdie-eagle to shoot 63 on Friday, including a back-nine 29. His 36-hole total of 129 is the lowest in the field.
Friday charge at East Lake 👀 pic.twitter.com/hFmnU7VnMG— Xander Schauffele (@XSchauffele) August 26, 2022
Scheffler started the week two ahead of Patrick Cantlay and led Schauffele by four. Scheffler’s lead grew to five after a first-round 65. He didn’t make a bogey Friday and shot 66, but Schauffele still cut into his lead. It happened in the blink of an eye.
While Scheffler parred the last three holes, Schauffele holed a 12-foot birdie putt on 16, a 4-footer on 17 and a 5-foot eagle putt on the final hole. It was the first 29 on East Lake’s back nine in six years and overcame a pedestrian 34 on the front that dropped him seven behind Scheffler.
“I got off to kind of a bad start and saw a bunch of 62s and 63s on the board, so I just tucked my head and got to work,” he said.
Schauffele’s 29 was the lowest back-nine score by two shots this week. Chef’s kiss.
Schauffele didn’t think he’d changed the complexion of this tournament, however. A two-shot deficit doesn’t excite him, even if the player he’s pursuing once held an advantage that seemed insurmountable.
“Same old,” Schauffele said. “It's only day two, so playing golf.”
No one plays it better at East Lake than Schauffele. He’s 43 under par here since 2017, 14 shots better than anyone else. The reason for his success? He says the course resembles his game. It requires proficiency in every aspect and doesn’t reward one style of play exponentially. He ranks in the top 40 of all four Strokes Gained categories this season and isn’t known for one standout strength that overshadows a weakness. This week, he leads the field in Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee, driving accuracy (he missed just one fairway Friday) and is second in Strokes Gained: Approach.
Xander Schauffele pours in 12-foot birdie at TOUR Championship
When Schauffele won the TOUR Championship in 2017, he was somewhat of a surprise entrant to East Lake, a rookie who came on strong in the second half of the season. He beat Justin Thomas, who’d won five times that year, including a major, en route to winning the FedExCup. Back then, there were still separate trophies for the winner of the week and the season-long prize. This time, winning the TOUR Championship also means being crowned FedExCup champion (and earning $18 million).
To win a second TOUR Championship, Schauffele would again need to beat the season’s best player. Scheffler has four wins, including the Masters, and is trying to become the first player since Thomas in 2017 to win five times, including a major, and the FedExCup. Scheffler has led the FedExCup every week since March, save one.
Schauffele hasn’t been a slouch, however, with a career-high three wins this season. Last year, he won the biggest prize in golf that doesn’t have prize money, the Olympic medal. Now he’s trying to take home golf’s biggest prize after several close calls (in four of his five TOUR seasons, he’s finished in the top five of the FedExCup).
“There's a lot at stake here,” he said, “and staying present is going to be the hardest thing.”
Looking ahead is always a dangerous exercise in this game. Just look at the leaderboard. A Scottie Scheffler victory seemed like a sure thing until Xander Schauffele had a say.