Scottie Scheffler, the winner of the Masters, is putting on a clinic and was on the verge of making the Tour Championship a rout. Xander Schauffele’s three-hole run at the end of the first round altered the weekend’s trajectory at East Lake dramatically.
After sinking two birdie putts, Schauffele hammered a 4-iron over the bunker and to within five feet of the ball on the par-5 18th, setting up an easy eagle putt that he calmly rolled in.
With a birdie-birdie-eagle finish (Scheffler could only manage pars in his final three holes), Schauffele cut a 6-shot deficit to 2-shots by the end of play on Friday.
Schauffele isn’t easily enthused, and this didn’t change that. It’s simply a struggle for position heading into Sunday, he said, adding, “It was nice to pick up some shots late here.” There’s a ton of golf to be had on this property.
Scheffler wasn’t too worried about it. This is not the norm for him. Scheffler has stated, “I’m just going to go out and do my thing and try to play decent golf.” While it’s clear that Xander has a stellar reputation in the local golfing community, “following the lead of other people on the golf field has never served me too well,”
Scheffler, thanks to his 66, was 19 strokes below par. He began the FedEx Cup at 10 under par, with Schauffele four shots back at No. 4, and had little complaints other than failing to take advantage of many birdie opportunities.
Scheffler had a flawless performance. The four putts he had within ten feet of the hole but missed? He simply viewed them as openings, as confirmation that he was on the right track toward a remarkable four-win streak in two months that culminated with the Masters that spring.
Scheffler started the day with a five-shot lead when he birdied the second hole of the par-3 round from five feet and then blasted the driver on the third hole so brilliantly that he had a flip wedge into five feet for another birdie. Ahead by 8 shots, he was able to pull away.
Jon Rahm is a 63 as well, moving him closer to the lead at 13 under. While being interviewed, he glanced up at the TV to check if Scheffler had made another birdie. He was now 6 shots behind the leader. Former winner Patrick Cantlay shot a 66 and was tied for seventh place with Sungjae I’m (65).
In retrospect, Rahm wasn’t sure if he reinserted himself into contention, but at age 63, he felt it was more plausible. He’s got a terrific golf swing, though, right? And we have to keep going, and we have to play excellent golf,” Rahm said. It’s going to require a monumental effort from me over the weekend, and I’m crossing my fingers that Scottie doesn’t have a monumental effort. It’s close to what we’re trying to find.
As it turned out, Schauffele did manage to discover that. He was six strokes behind the leader when he made a birdie on the 16th when his approach shot landed 12 feet behind the back left pin. His 17th-hole wedge shot from the fairway rolled back to within four feet.
The risky play with the four iron paid off. It was somewhat off to the right of what I had in mind, but it was far enough away and had the correct shape. “I hit it so perfectly that I wasn’t very worried about it,” Schauffele said. I was just trying to cover that corner, and I made a good swing, so I was certain it would go in. That it reached heights of 5 or 6 feet was a pleasant surprise.
After winning as a PGA Tour rookie at East Lake in 2017, Schauffele has amassed an impressive record there. That year’s FedEx Cup worked differently since points were reset for the season’s final tournament. For his efforts, Justin Thomas was awarded the hefty prize. Dustin Johnson, who was seeded first, won the FedEx Cup despite having the lowest score over 72 holes after the tournament switched to a staggered start.
Schauffele has never shot below par in any of the 22 rounds he has played, regardless of the format. Only two of his rounds are in the 70s, while the other 20 are in the 60s.
He has no interest in that. Nor is the fact that he was able to cut a 10-shot deficit to four strokes in the closing three holes. Staying focused on the now, he suggested, would be the most difficult task.
Schauffele has a chance to complete the year with four PGA Tour championships and the $18 million bonus at stake. Scheffler hopes to cap off the greatest year in golf with a trophy worthy of his efforts. Seven months ago, he was yet to win his first tournament on the PGA Tour. Max Homa recorded a 62 on the day’s easiest, sunniest conditions but was still 10 strokes behind the leader.
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