Don’t look now, but Xander Schauffele is threatening to win the Tour Championship yet again.
Schauffele, who won at East Lake Golf Club as a rookie in 2017, finished T-7 in 2018 and runner-up a year ago, carded three birdies in a row beginning at No. 15 en route to shooting 5-under 65 in the second round. The 26-year-old began the week at 3 under in the FedEx Cup’s staggered scoring system, but with 36 holes remaining until a champion is crowned he’s trimmed his deficit to leader Dustin Johnson to two strokes.
Given Schauffele’s track record at East Lake, he might be the most dangerous man on the leaderboard. He recorded his 14th consecutive round at par-or-better in as many attempts at East Lake. To what does he attribute his success there?
“It’s tough. You kind of have to do everything really well. I think that’s why I like it. It’s really fair. It’s right in front of you. I don’t know why I play well here,” he said. “I mean, I think some statisticians could tell you, but certain holes fit my eye and I just enjoy being out here, so it’s lucky for me.”
Schauffele showed he was game for the challenge this week, shooting 3-under 67 on Friday, despite a double bogey at the par-3 11th hole.
“I was standing on a sprinkler head. I could have dropped it. I thought lie was decent so I kind of went through with it, and it came out pretty hot, chipped it off the green got lucky to make a 5, honestly,” Schauffele explained. “I would’ve lost a lot of money if someone told me I was going to chip it off a green from being about a foot off the green.
“It was a very childish mistake, very amateur-esque. It happens to us, and unfortunately it happened yesterday.”
Schauffele has made only one bogey in his last 25 holes since making double. He carded three birdies on the front nine to turn in 32, and didn’t let his lone bogey of the day at 13 slow him. His string of birdies began when he canned a 13-foot birdie putt at the difficult par-3 15th hole. Two approaches inside 10 feet set up birdies at 16 and 17.
A return to one of his favorite stomping grounds has done wonders for Schauffele, but he also credited hard work with his dad, who doubles as his instructor, and good old-fashioned tenacity for restoring his usually dependable swing. Schauffele shot 6-over par last week at the BMW Championship and finished T-25.
“I was stressed out early in the week coming in. I wasn’t hitting it very well and I was pretty hard on my dad, and made sure that we’d get me into decent shape just to have a chance to come out here and compete,” Schauffele said. “We worked pretty hard at it back end of last week and early into this week. I think everyone is aware if you’re not in the fairway this week, the rough is thick and it’s nastier than I’ve ever seen it.”
So far, Schauffele has hit eight fairways each day, but with two rounds to go, the stat to watch for Schauffele is can he remain No. 1 in Strokes Gained: Putting this week? The short stick could be the difference in lifting Schauffele to the top of the heap and FedEx Cup glory.