Schauffele roars back to seize Tournament of Champions win

LOS ANGELES (AFP) – Xander Schauffele made two eagles in a remarkable 11-under par 62 on Sunday to seize victory in the US PGA Tour Tournament of Champions by one stroke from Gary Woodland.

Schauffele started the day five shots off Woodland’s lead and opened with a bogey on the par-73 Plantation course in Kapalua, Hawaii.

He birdied four of his next five holes before chipping in for his first eagle of the day at the ninth.

He holed out for an eagle from 107 yards out in the fairway at 12, birdied 14 and 15 and capped his round with back-to-back-birdies to edge his fellow American, who had led four-time major winner Rory McIlroy by three strokes coming into the final round.

“Honestly, it was a crazy day,” Schauffele said after signing for a 23-under total of 269.

Xander Schauffele poses with the trophy. – AFP

Woodland had five birdies in his 68 for 270.

Northern Ireland’s McIlroy, meanwhile, could get nothing going in the final round of his first appearance at the event, which is open only to winners of tour events the previous season.

He carded a one-under par 72 that left him tied for fourth, eight shots off the pace. He finished on 277 alongside American Dustin Johnson and Australian Marc Leishman.

Justin Thomas carded a 65 to finish alone in third on 274.

While the expected duel between Woodland and McIlroy, playing together in the final group, never materialised, Schauffele provided plenty of drama.

The 25-year-old admitted that even after birdies at the third, fifth, sixth and seventh holes he wasn’t looking much at the leaderboard, since he started the day so far back.

His chip-in for eagle at the ninth boosted him into second place, just one shot back.

But Woodland made his second birdie of the day at the ninth to push the margin back to two, and gave himself more breathing room with a 30-foot birdie putt at the par-three 11th.

Schauffele promptly eagled the 12th, regained a share of the lead with a birdie at 14 and took the solo lead for the first time with a birdie at 15.

After Woodland birdied 15, too, Schauffele edged ahead again with a birdie at 17, where an aggressive second shot left him a nine-footer for the first birdie of the day on the hardest hole on the course.

“I knew it was going to be a birdie-fest coming in,” he said. “We kept our head down and tried to run for it.”

Woodland responded with an 11-foot birdie of his own at 17, but after Schauffele birdied the par-five finishing hole with two putts from 12 feet, Woodland couldn’t make his own 10-foot birdie putt at 18 to force a playoff.

“Obviously he was playing great,” Woodland, who is now zero-for-seven when taking a lead into the fourth round of a PGA Tour stroke play event. “My goal today was to birdie the par-fives and make a couple more and see if that was enough.

“Obviously I needed to birdie the last there, but, I’m playing great. Frustrated right now, but Xander played great. Hats off to him.”

Schauffele, the 2017 PGA Tour Rookie of the Year, has won all four of his titles in come-from-behind fashion. That included a storming playoff victory in the WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai in October.

“Got nothing to lose,” he said of his approach to the final round. “Wind was down, the easier holes played easier and the tougher holes played harder, so we figured if we could kind of sneak a few in on the tougher holes we might have a chance.”