I had a list of names I was watching to see if they could slide in and snatch a victory from Gary Woodland, who led the field by three strokes going into the final round of the Sentry Tournament of Champions on Sunday. Xander Schauffele, who was five back going into Sunday, was not on that list.
And he definitely wasn’t on it after he bogeyed the first hole. Of course then he played the next 17 holes in 12 under and shot the second-best score to par (-11) in a final round win in PGA Tour history to clip Woodland by one. Schauffele, who shot a 62 and finished at 23 under to Woodland’s 22 under, made two eagles on the day and birdied four of his last five for the trophy. It was the largest final-round deficit overcome in the history of the Tournament of Champions at Kapalua.
“It was a crazy day,” Schauffele told Golf Channel. “I didn’t do much leaderboard watching early in the round. I knew it was going to be a birdie-fest coming in … We kept our head down and tried to run for it.”
Three shots stood out. The first was actually Schauffele’s second hole-out of the day for eagle. This one came on the par-4 12th hole, and it was a gem. It got him to 19 under for the week and within striking distance of Woodland. On a day when it looked like Woodland’s primary competition would be Rory McIlroy or Justin Thomas, Schauffele came around the last curve at breakneck speed.
The second was this filthy approach at the par-4 17th. A birdie here got him to 22 under, and it was the first birdie of the day on that hole (Woodland would soon make the second). It takes some stones to hit this shot!
The last was his approach on the par-5 18th, which led to a third eagle attempt (and what would have been a dagger). He missed that putt, but the approach was pretty unbelievable given the circumstances.
Schauffele two-putted for birdie on the 18 and his fourth win, and the 17-hole mega-heater was complete. Here’s a look at his Sunday numbers.
- Strokes gained from tee to green: No. 1
- Strokes gained on approach shots: No. 1
- Strokes gained around the green: No. 2
- Strokes gained putting: No. 2
“Xander played great,” Woodland told Golf Channel. “Hat’s off to him.”
It was tough not to feel for Woodland, who had either led or been right near the lead for the most of the week. He went out with a three-stroke lead (and five on Schauffele), shot a terrific 5-under 68 … and got beat. There wasn’t much he could do to stop the Schauffele Express, but he did notch his eighth top 12 in his last nine worldwide events and his game has never looked stronger.
The win is Schauffele’s second of the young season and his fourth in 61 events. That’s more than Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Bryson DeChambeau and Rickie Fowler had through their first 61 events … combined. It will take a while to untangle all the implications of what Schauffele, age 25, winning this event and winning four times in 61 events means. But for one day in Hawaii, the golf spoke for itself. There was nobody better than (or that close to) Xander Schauffele on Sunday when it mattered down the stretch of the first event of 2019. Grade: A+ Woodland Grade: A+
Rory McIlroy (T4): All things considered, it was a good week for McIlroy, who noted that he hadn’t played a lot of offseason golf. He grabbed a top-10 finish, gained strokes with his putter and showed off a filthy new trajectory with the big stick. However … his Sunday performance once again left something to be desired. As was pointed out before Round 4 started, McIlroy has not performed all that well in final pairings over the past year plus. He’s now 0-for-7 in wins while playing in the last pairing on a Sunday since Jan. 1, 2018. This Sunday’s performance was more inconspicuous than most, but of the final top 10 on the leaderboard, McIlroy’s 72 was the worst score. Grade: B+
Dustin Johnson (T4): D.J. was my pick coming in after winning by eight last year. He played pretty well all week, but he was undone by a 74 in Round 2 “highlighted” by a bizarre situation in which he hit the wrong ball out of the rough on a hole shortly before finding his actual ball. He had to take a two-stroke penalty and finished that day down seven to Woodland. He didn’t have the juice to recover on the weekend despite an outstanding performance around the green (No. 1 in the field) and with his putter (No. 10). Grade: B-
Bryson DeChambeau (7th): DeChambeau leading the field in putting the week he switched to rolling it with the pin in is so on the nose it’s almost painful. Unfortunately for The Artist, he didn’t hit it as well as he normally does (23rd in strokes gained on approach shots). I’m excited to see him start banking in putts from 25 feet before the USGA intervenes. Grade: B
Brooks Koepka (24th): The No. 1 player in the world came into the week without a lot of offseason prep. That’s nothing new for Koepka, though. He said before the week started that he would rather his mind be fresh this time of year than he would his game sharp. And it wasn’t. He opened with a 76 on Thursday, and went into the final round right at even par. He shot a 4-under 69 on Sunday — his best score by a lot over the past few years here — but still finished just eight strokes clear of last place. The good news for him this year is that, unlike last year, he seems to be healthy going into the rest of January (last year’s wrist injury shelved him on the disabled list until after the Masters). Grade: D