KAPALUA, Hawaii (AP) — Xander Schauffele finished stronger than everyone around him Saturday, and it was good enough to keep a one-shot lead going into the final round of the Sentry Tournament of Champions.
Schauffele closed with three pars for a 2-under 71 as he tries to become only the third player to win back-to-back in this winners-only event at Kapalua, and the first since Geoff Ogilvy in 2010.
This was a matter of not losing ground in the final hour.
Justin Thomas, who won at Kapalua three years ago, ran off five birdies on the front nine to take the lead until his first three-putt bogey of the week on the 12th hole. He misjudged the wind on another 6-foot par putt at the 17th and failed to birdie the par-5 18th for a 38 on the back nine. That gave him a 69 and a sour taste.
Thomas will be in the final group as he goes for his third win in his last seven starts on the PGA Tour. But he typically scores well on the back nine, and he lost ground on this day.
“I felt like I really let a good one get away from me,” Thomas said.
Thomas wasn’t alone. Patrick Cantlay ran off three straight birdies to get into the mix, only to hit a tee shot out-of-bounds on the 14th and hit another tee shot into the waist-high weeds on the 18th, leading to bogey. He shot 39 on the back for a 73 and fell five shots behind.
Joaquin Niemann, who opened with a 66 on Thursday, failed to birdie the two par 5s and made bogeys on the two par 4s between them. He shot 39 on the back and had to settle for a 74, leaving him four shots behind.
Patrick Reed had a 74, eight shots worse than his round Friday, and he was in the group four shots behind.
Schauffele was at 11-under 212, the highest 54-hole score to lead at Kapalua since Vijay Singh was at 11 under in 2007.
Schauffele won last year by closing with a 62 to make up a five-shot deficit against Gary Woodland.
“I’ll probably lap the field with a 62,” he said.
Thomas is one who believes another 62 is out there if everything falls his way, even though the renovations to the Plantation Course are a big reason why scoring has been higher than usual.
The weather hasn’t helped. Saturday brought another dose of gusts in the 25 mph range, and occasional rain that showed up out of nowhere.
Schauffele was at even par through 13 holes — two early birdies, a long three-putt bogey and a bogey from the bunker on the par-3 11th — and briefly fell out of lead.
Thomas figured he was in a tough day at the start when dark clouds zoomed over the west tip of Maui and sent showers. Thomas jogged up the concrete toward the clubhouse to get more rain gear, rolling his eyes as he said sardonically, “Sweet.”
His golf was every bit of that. He stuffed a wedge on the opening hole for birdie. he ran off three straight birdies with two shots into 4 feet and a two-putt birdie. He finished the back nine with a 10-foot birdie putt.
It looked as though everything were going his way on the 12th when he pulled his tee shot. It landed in a bunker, bounced out and was headed for thick native grass when it struck a volunteer in the leg and caromed into play. But his wedge just crawled onto the green, and with a back pin, he three-putted.
Schauffele didn’t make a mistake after the 11th and returned to the lead. Now it’s about finishing, and even without a 62 by someone chasing him, it might not be easy.
Ten players were separated by four shots going into Sunday, a group that includes Woodland, Kevin Kisner, Jon Rahm and a pair of newcomers who won last year, Matthew Wolff and Colin Morikawa.
Missing from that group is Dustin Johnson, a two-time winner at Kapalua, who has left frustrated each day. Johnson was working his way into contention until his cut shot with the driver didn’t cut and went into the bushes. He hacked out, then dumped his next shot in the bunker and made double bogey. He hit another shot into the high grass for a penalty shot on the par-5 15th and had to scramble for par.
At one point three shots behind with two par 5s ahead of him, Johnson had to settle for a 71 and was six shots behind.
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