ATLANTA – Notes and observations from Sunday’s final round of the TOUR Championship, where rookie Xander Schauffele was clutch down the stretch to beat Justin Thomas by a shot at East Lake. Thomas, by virtue of his runner up finish, claimed the coveted season long FedExCup.
For more coverage from East Lake Golf Club, click here for the Daily Wrap-up.
THE X FACTOR
Xander Schauffele has it. The x-factor. The winning gene. The ability to be clutch.
The 23-year-old had already started to build a reputation for being good under the gun before he birdied the 72nd hole at East Lake to win the TOUR Championship and become the first TOUR rookie to do so.
He made it through Web.com Q-School in his first attempt. He made it through the Web.Com Finals in his first attempt. He made it through a playoff to get into the U.S. Open and then promptly finished in a tie for fifth at Erin Hills.
And he had already claimed a victory this season as a rookie - producing a stunning 72nd hole tee shot to 3-feet at The Greenbrier to claim the spoils - before this triumph.
Oh, and then there was last week at the BMW Championship where Schauffele played the last six holes Sunday in 6-under just to book his place in the TOUR Championship field.
“It would make any player feel good knowing that they can perform when there's a gun to their head,” he said after his clutch 2-under back nine Sunday.
“I would rather not be in that situation moving forward, but if I ever am in that situation, then I can fall back on some experience to pull through it.”
His father was a potential star athlete before he was hit by a drunk driver and has instilled the winning mentality into his offspring. The family genes are certainly good ones as his great grandfather also played soccer for Germany.
His caddie and former college teammate at San Diego State Austin Kaiser has seen the clutch performances for years.
“He was just brought up that way. Even in college we were all about being clutch because we were always the underdog and that’s what it was today,” Kaiser said.
“Having a chip on your shoulder, like hey I have to prove it. Some guys are born with it.”
Schauffele says he’s always made a habit of creating pressure in practice or even friendly games with friends. If the pressure environment wasn’t there naturally, he’d create one.
“I think small things like that sort of carry over and build up. So now I have sort of clutched up in certain areas,” he adds.
“But it is funny how it has continually happened. At some point I am going to fail that’s just how it goes. You can’t be clutch your whole life. Kobe wasn’t. LeBron isn’t. All those guys can have a little bit of a stutter but if you can kind of be on the other side of it that’s all you can ask for.”
So far he’s certainly been on the good side of the equation.
SPIETH BEMOANS PUTTING PERFORMANCE
Jordan Spieth’s most valuable weapon, his putter, let him down at East Lake.
When the 2015 FedExCup champion is rolling the rock at his peak, he is virtually unbeatable.
But the ball just wouldn’t find the cup with the regularity the Texan needed to preserve his top spot in the FedExCup and despite a Sunday surge his T7 finish allowed Justin Thomas to steal the season long prize.
Having been inside the top-10 players in Strokes Gained: Putting for the previous two seasons this year has been somewhat frustrating on the greens. He finished the year ranked 42nd on TOUR.
“It was a fight this whole week. I got on the greens and this was the most uncomfortable I've been with the putter in my hands maybe in my career. It was probably the worst putting event that I had this entire year,” Spieth said after ranking 21st in the 30-man field on the greens.
“I'm not sure what it is. I would look up and it would be on a different line from where I thought, and then I didn't know what to do over the ball. I don't know if it was timing or alignment or what it was and I was trying to figure it out.
“This tournament almost summed up the year. I struck the ball nicely, I just couldn't quite get comfortable to get in just a full‑blown full tournament rhythm on the greens.”
For a moment on the back nine Sunday, Spieth was still projected to win the FedExCup. A hole-out eagle on the 10th sparked his chances and a birdie on the 13th kept the dream alive.
But a bogey on 15 and a surge from Thomas behind him meant he would not become just the second player behind Tiger Woods to win the FedExCup twice.
“If the putter was a little hotter, then I would have had more of a chance. But I'm very pleased with the season, very pleased with the way we fought today and happy for JT to win the FedExCup,” he added.
TICKED OFF THOMAS
Justin Thomas sat in a media zone watching Xander Schauffele playing the last hole of the TOUR Championship looking slightly annoyed.
It seemed strange to onlookers given he had already been declared the winner of the FedExCup and still had an outside chance of a playoff for the event itself.
But the reality was the newly crowned season long champion was still stewing about failing to birdie the par-5 18th and give himself a better chance for win number six on the season.
Forget the $10 million plus he’d be guaranteed. He wanted the Calamity Jane trophy Schauffele took when he coaxed in a short birdie putt on the last. Thomas doesn’t play for the money.
“It feels very weird. At first I'm sure people were kind of shocked at my reactions or my tone because, I wasn't mad, but my competitive nature, I was upset,” he said.
“I felt like I had a great chance to win this tournament and I didn't. I wanted to win six times this year.”
Thomas knew had he done so he would be the first person to win at least six times since Tiger Woods in 2009.
He had birdied the 16th and 17th holes and looked set to put a huge exclamation point on his incredible year with another on 18.
But a wayward drive forced a lay-up and then his 23-foot birdie try was tracking hard towards the cup only to barely miss.
“Anytime you're in the same sentence or record books with Tiger, it's pretty impressive,” he added.
“So I wanted to win for that and I knew if I won this week I would win the FedExCup. It's odd getting something so tremendous, one of my best achievements in my career without winning a golf tournament, so it feels different but it's still great.”
ODDS AND ENDS
Overnight leader Paul Casey had a day to forget with a 3-over 73 leaving him three shots off the pace. But Casey is still yet to finish outside of the top 5 at East Lake. He was T4 in 2010, T5 in 2015, 4th in 2016 and 5th this year. It marked his ninth top 10 of the season and his 10th overall top 10 in FedExCup Playoff events without winning one. In fact it is the seventh top 5 in his last nine Playoff starts.
Russell Henley shot a 5-under 65 for the round of the day, moving him up into a tie for third just two shots short of Schauffele. Starting at 27th in the FedExCup the result lifted him all the way to 13th.
There were 16 players (11 USA, 5 International) due to compete in next week’s Presidents Cup in the field at East Lake. Five of those in Justin Thomas, Kevin Kisner, Brooks Koepka, Jordan Spieth and Matt Kuchar finished in the top 10. On the flipside, seven of the last eight players on the leaderboard are also heading to Liberty National.
SHOT OF THE DAY
Shot of the Day
Jordan Spieth's holed approach on No. 10 is the Shot of the Day
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