Xander Schauffele figured he had nothing to lose. He wound up winning the first PGA Tour event of the year with a final round that not even he could have imagined.
Three straight birdies on the front. Two eagles that he holed from off the green, including a full wedge from 107 yards . Two eagle chips he nearly made, one hitting the left edge of the cup, the other stopping inches away in the heart. And then he finished off his 11-under 62 with two more birdies, just enough for him to deny hard-luck Gary Woodland and win the Sentry Tournament of Champions.
“Crazy day,” Schauffele said.
He was still somewhat dazed when he stepped outside the scoring trailer as Woodland was walking off the 18th green, having missed a 10-foot birdie putt that would have forced a playoff at Kapalua.
Woodland, one of the most athletic figures in golf, gave him a smile and a playful push on the shoulder. Schauffele was glad that’s all it was.
“He knows he could kick my (tail) if he wanted to,” Schauffele said.
Woodland knows there wasn’t much he could have done. He started the final round with a three-shot lead, didn’t make a bogey and closed with a 68. It still wasn’t enough, not against the final round the 25-year-old Schauffele put together.
Schauffele tied the course record with his 62, previously held by K.J. Choi, Graeme McDowell, Chris Kirk and Jason Day. He set tournament marks with the lowest closing round by a winner and the largest 18-hole comeback (five shots).
“I didn’t do much leaderboard watching,” said Schauffele, who started the best round of his career with a bogey. “I knew it was going to be a birdie-fest at the end. We kept our head down and made a run for it.”
The victory was the second of the season for Schauffele, who won his first World Golf Championships title in the fall at the HSBC Champions in Shanghai. He rallied from three shots behind to win that one, finishing birdie-birdie and then making one more birdie to win a playoff.
His other two victories in his rookie season of 2017 all featured comebacks, including two shots at the Tour Championship.
That’s four career titles in 18 months, enough to move Schauffele to No. 6 in the world ranking.
It was a tough loss for Woodland, who has yet to win in stroke play the three times he has held the 54-hole lead. He was the only player to post all four rounds in the 60s, and 68 was his worst score all week. It was good enough to win all but three tournaments held at Kapalua.
“This one will sting,” Woodland said.
They were tied with three holes to play, with Schauffele in the group ahead of Woodland. Schauffele went at the flag on the 520-yard 17th hole by hitting a 6-iron from 188 yards on a downhill lie to just inside 10 feet. It was the first birdie on No. 17 in the final round.
Woodland was watching, and he answered with an approach to 12 feet for the second birdie of the day.
But he couldn’t keep up at the end.
Schauffele hammered a 5-wood onto the par-5 18th green to 12 feet, narrowly missing his third eagle of the final round. He tapped in for birdie and a 62, posting a target of 23-under 269. And then he had to wait.
Woodland hit his drive too long — 390 yards, downhill but into a breeze — which left him between clubs. He went with a 4-iron, hoping to draw it into the slope and have it run onto the green. It stayed out to the right, he hit a pitch-and-run to 10 feet and missed the putt.
He found no consolation in losing to a guy who shot 62 in a Kona wind, the tougher of the two directions on the west end of Maui.
“I don’t think it will ever be easy because I still believe I was playing well enough to shoot 66 today,” Woodland said. “You have an iron into the par 5 in the middle of the fairway on the last hole, you expect to make birdie. I had killed the par 5s all week this week, which is what you’ve got to do out here. So I knew what he was doing and the competitor in me knew I needed to do one better. And unfortunately, I didn’t get it done.”
Neither did Rory McIlroy.
He played in the final group with Woodland, three shots behind, knowing he had played in the final group six times last year without winning. He got within two shots early, but didn’t make a birdie after a two-putt on the par-5 fifth and closed with a 72 to tie for fourth.
“I gave myself plenty of chances, just couldn’t get anything to drop,” McIlroy said.
Brooks Koepka closed with a 69 to finish 24th, meaning Justin Rose returns to No. 1 in the world.
Source: The Associated Press