Xander Schauffele tied the course record at Kapalua on Sunday to pass Gary Woodland and win the Sentry Tournament of Champions by a shot.
Gary Woodland must be wondering what more he has to do to win a PGA Tour event. After all, he came into the final round of the Sentry Tournament of Champions with a three-shot lead, shot five-under on Sunday, and still lost.
He can blame Xander Schauffele for that. It was going to take a historic round to beat Woodland on Sunday in Hawaii, and that’s exactly what Schauffele did. The 25-year-old tied the course record at Kapalua with an 11-under round of 62 to post 23-under and beat Woodland by a shot.
Schauffele began the final round five behind Woodland, and after a bogey at the first hole fell six back. But that early blemish would prove to be his only one of the day. He birdied four holes on the front-nine, then chipped in for eagle from just off the green at the par-five ninth. At the 12th he holed out from 102 yards for another eagle. His approach to the long par-four 17th from more than 200 yards settled within 10 feet, setting up another birdie. Finally, at the par-five 18th, he two-putted for birdie after missing an 11-footer for eagle and a new course record.
In his third year on the PGA Tour, Schauffele now has four wins in his first 61 career events; Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler, Justin Thomas and Bryson DeChambeau had three combined in the same span. It was also his second win in a row after taking home the WGC-HSBC Champions in China last October. He’s come from behind in all four of his wins, but Schauffele admits he doesn’t know why he excels in those situations.
“You kind of look around and realize you have nothing to lose,” he said after his round on Sunday. “I have no idea what it is, but I think the next step in my career is to learn to be cool under the gun, having a lead and maintaining it.”
Woodland, also seeking his fourth PGA Tour win, did nothing wrong but couldn’t keep pace with Schauffele’s hot finish. The 34-year-old Kansas native was in good position to tie Schauffele on the 18th, in the middle of the fairway on the reachable par-five. He left his approach to the right of the green, however, and a mediocre pitch shot left him 10 feet away for the birdie he needed. The putt slid by, and with it another 54-hole lead; Woodland is now 1-8 in converting final round leads in his career.
With the win Schauffele will rise to a career-high sixth in the World Golf Rankings. A member of the 2011 high school class that also includes Spieth and Thomas, Schauffele admitted last year he was motivated to match the success those players already had. He now has to be considered in the same conversation as his fellow young stars. He still isn’t buying his newfound stature on tour, however.
“Its got a weird sound to it, honestly. I don’t know, I still feel like an underdog,” he said.
That underdog mentality still motivates him, but the rest of the PGA Tour is coming to recognize him for what he’s quickly becoming: one of the best players in the world.