Xander Schauffele came from behind to win his fourrth PGA Tour title with a final round 62 at the Sentry Tournament of Champions
Xander Schauffele knows how to perform when it comes to winning events with a field stacked with the world's best: The 2017 rookie of the year already had three titles to his name when he turned up in Hawaii, including a Tour Championship victory and a WGC win. Sunday was no different.
Starting the day five shots behind the leaders, Schauffele was barely in the conversation at the start of the fourth round when it came to who was going to wrap up the first tournament of 2019. Instead, discussing who would win the battle between overnight leader Gary Woodland and playing partner Rory McIlroy took centre stage, and Schauffele's case wasn't helped with an opening hole bogey.
But Schauffele once again proved that he excels as the underdog, gaining his fourth PGA Tour title by coming from behind to win - as he has done in all his previous victories - and also achieving the largest final round comeback in the history of the tournament.
"This is the stuff you sort of dream about," Schauffele said after shooting a course record tying 62 to win. "I could see myself doing it, but it's hard to believe."
He followed up that opening bogey with a birdie on the third, and added three in a row from the fifth before he chipped in for eagle on the 9th hole to card a front-nine 31.
A second eagle of the day came just three holes later, holing out from 106yards on the 12th hole to move to 19-under par.
Schauffele added three more birdies on the 14th, 15th and 16th holes, and found himself tied for the lead heading down the final hole after Woodland birdied the 17th. The 25-year-old showed no signs of nerves though, hitting his approach to the par-five 18th to 11 feet. His eagle putt would slide by, but a birdie would be enough as Woodland settled for a final-hole par.
"You kind of look around and realize you have nothing to lose," Schauffele said, who is now the first multiple winner of the 2018-19 season.
"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."
"I just still feel like an underdog," Schauffele said. "I feel like until you're No. 1, you're chasing. So guys like Bryson (DeChambeau) and (Justin Thomas), JT's put together a ton of good years. Brooks (Koepka) has been crushing it. So they keep putting that flag way out there for me to go and chase and I feel like that's what I've been doing.
"The next step in my career is to learn to be cool under the gun, having a lead and maintaining it.
"These are all stepping stones in the right direction and I think the end goal is for me to be able to go wire-to-wire and obviously a major would be nice but go wire-to-wire and show myself that I got the nerve to do it."
Woodland, who held a three shot lead heading in to the final round, managed a five-under 68 to close out solo second, but came up a shot short of converting his 54-hole lead after failing to birdie the final hole. It's the seventh time that same fate has awaited Woodland, and he admitted it wasn't an easy pill to swallow.
“I don’t think it will ever be easy because I still believe I was playing well enough to shoot 66 today,” Woodland said about not being able to convert a 54-hole lead for the seventh time.
“You have an iron into the par-5 in the middle of the fairway on the last hole and you expect to make birdie. I had killed the par-5s all week this week, which is what you got to do out here. So I knew what (Schauffele) was doing and the competitor in me knew I needed to do one better and unfortunately I didn’t get it done.”
Rory McIlroy once again struggled in the final group on Sunday. He got off to a hot start with two birdies in his opening five holes to get to within two shots of his playing partner, but could only find a solitary bogey for the remainder of the round to end up in a tie for 4th with Dustin Johnson and Schauffele's playing partner Marc Leishman. Justin Thomas, who carded an impressive eight-under 65, finished in third on 18-under-par.
"My attitude was much better today," McIlroy said. "I didn't press at all, I was very patient. Just something I'm going to have to persist with. Just keep putting myself in these positions. Honestly I don't think anyone could have lived with Xander today."
As for Leishman, a two under 71 left him feeling like he'd had a terrible day in comparison to Schauffele.
"I shot two under and it felt like an 80 next to him," said Leishman.
WITB: Xander Schauffele
Xander Schauffele picked up his second title of the 2018-19 season with a brand new Callaway Epic Flash driver and Apex Pro 19 Irons, which were both only launched last week! Find out what else was in his winning bag at the Sentry Tournament of Champions.
Driver: Callaway Epic Flash Sub Zero (9 degrees), Graphite Design BB 7X Shaft
3-wood: Callaway Rogue Sub Zero (15 degrees), Graphite Design Tour AD-DI 8X Shaft
5-wood: Callaway Rogue Sub Zero (18 degrees), Graphite Design Tour AD-DI 8X Shaft
Irons: Callaway Apex Pro 19 (4-PW), True Temper Dynamic Gold X 100 Shaft
Wedges: Callaway Mack Daddy 4 (52 degrees), Titleist Vokey Design SM6 (56, 60 degrees), True Temper Dynamic Gold X 100 Shafts
Putter: Odyssey O-Works Red #7 CH
Ball: Callaway Chrome Soft X