KAPALUA, Hawaii—A year ago, Xander Schauffele reached the Plantation Course’s par-5 18th in two and had two putts on Sunday to win the Sentry Tournament of Champions. He three-putted, then was eliminated from a playoff after another three-putt on the same hole.
Friday, he took just one roll on the 18th, and it was a doozy.
Schauffele poured in an 81-foot eagle putt to cap a seven-under 66 that leaves him just three back of Harris English on a packed leader board halfway through the PGA Tour’s first tournament of the new year as it resumed the 2020-21 season.
“It’s always nice to finish that way,” Schauffele said. “Caddie’s happy, don’t have to go do any putting drills, so all smiles all around.”
Especially for the 27-year-old World No. 6.
Last year, Schauffele had a chance to win two tournaments, in Hawaii and at Colonial, but three-putts late in the final round cost him both times. And even when he did post the lowest 72-hole score for the week in the Tour Championship, he still didn’t get an official win on tour, thanks to the tournament’s staggered start format.
Though Schauffele said he experienced relatively mild symptoms, he was forced to quarantine and couldn’t practice much before arriving for this week’s tournament. It also left him feeling a little out of shape when he showed up.
“My shins hurt, which is really strange,” he said. “They have never hurt from walking. I’ve kind of run on a treadmill before and they have kind of hurt before, but usually walking up hills doesn’t usually do much to me. But it’s kind of a challenge. It is what it is; I’ll be in the ice bath tonight.”
And in contention again on the Plantation Course.
Two years ago, Schauffele tied the course record with a final-round 11-under 62 to rally from five back and win by one over Gary Woodland. Then there was last year, when a birdie on the final hole of regulation would have won it before he settled for par and ended up in a playoff with Justin Thomas and Patrick Reed. Thomas won on the third extra hole.
This year, Schauffele will be battling them again, among other big names.
Thomas shot 69 on Friday and is tied for second, along with reigning PGA champ Collin Morikawa. Meanwhile, Reed is tied with Schauffele, and World Nos. 1 and 2 Dustin Johnson and Jon Rahm lurk another stroke back at 10 under.
Of course, that Schauffele is even in the event, much less in the hunt, is another story. As noted, he didn’t win a tournament last year. But he got into the winners-only event because the field was expanded to include players who reached the Tour Championship after the tour took off three months due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
So in that sense, he’s just happy to be playing this week. And what’s not to like about being in Maui?
“It’s just an awesome place to start,” Schauffele said. “I don’t know what it is, [the course] just kind of fits my eye. Usually it’s a little more windy, you got to sort of do all things in your game correctly and it’s just like, to me, it’s just a lot of fun to play, because you’re on these massive hills and a ton of wind and kind of weird breaking putts, so it’s just kind of fun.”