KAPALUA, Hawaii – Xander Schauffele enjoyed an 18-hole ride that any golfer would love to experience. He shot 11-under 62 on Sunday in the final round of the Sentry Tournament of Champions to rally from five strokes back and win his fourth title on the PGA Tour.
In tying the Kapalua Resort’s Plantation Course record, Schauffele shook off a bogey at the par-4 first hole and chased down 54-hole leader Gary Woodland(scores).
“You kind of look around and realize you have nothing to lose,” Schauffele said of his mindset after the first hole. “All of my wins have been from behind. This was in sort of dramatic fashion, and it turned into a birdie fest coming down the stretch. So, 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.”
Schauffele started to turn up the heat on Woodland at the par-5 ninth with a chip-in eagle and then holed a gap wedge from 107 yards for another eagle, at the par-4 12th. At that point, the 25-year-old San Diegan stole a peek at where he stood: only one stroke behind Woodland, who was playing behind Schauffele, in the final pairing.
“I looked up,” Schauffele said. “I didn't take too long of a look, but I just sort of got a quick feel of where I was at, just because once you're done with 13 – 13's a little bit tricky – and then 14's very gettable, 15, 16, and 17's difficult, but 18. So, you’ve got so many birdie holes, it's sort of pointless to look too early. I just wanted to see where I was at.”
Schauffele birdied 14, 15 and 17 before he faced a 5-wood from the fairway at the par-5 18th.
“I like to regrip the club a few times, and my left hand was shaking, so it's like, Whew, oh, boy, kid, you're a little nervous here,” Schauffele said. “So, I pulled that shot off – that was pretty special. Then that putt was sort of when I realized, Hey, you might have a shot here.”
Schauffele sank a 3-foot birdie on the 18th for 62 and a 23-under 269, then waited on Woodland.
Woodland, who entered the final round with a three-shot lead over Rory McIlroy, sported some new equipment and a no-fear attitude, all of which had served him well through 54 holes. But the last 18 holes historically had been difficult for Woodland, who had not won in six previous times when he led going into the final round of a stroke-play tournament.
Seeing Schauffele in front of him, Woodland knew what he needed to do all day. In the past, Woodland might have forced the issue, but he was more patient Sunday. He birdied the par-5 ninth hole to get to 19 under, two strokes ahead of Schauffele and three clear of McIlroy. Woodland added three birdies on the back nine before finding himself in the 18th fairway, knowing that he needed one more to force a playoff with Schauffele.
All week, Woodland had crushed the par 5s, playing them in 15 under. With 267 yards left to the final hole, Woodland faced a decision.
“I just got in between clubs,” he said, “Four-iron that I had in my hands probably wasn't enough – 2-iron was definitely too much – so we were trying to hit a big hook in there, and I just didn't hook it,” Woodland said. “So, it was tough making par on the last. But this one will hurt tonight, but excited about where my game is.”
Alex Miceli is the founder and publisher of Morning Read. Email: email@example.com; Twitter: @AlexMiceli