Sunday's golf: Xander Schauffele kicks off 2019 in style

By Doug Ferguson
Associated Press

Kapalua, Hawaii —  Xander Schauffele never had a better round or a more peculiar ending.

After holing out for two eagles, and closing with four birdies over his last five holes for an 11-under 62, he chose to wait inside the scoring trailer to see if it would be enough to beat Gary Woodland in the Sentry Tournament of Champions on Sunday.

The trailer was just behind the grandstands on the 18th hole. The television had a 10-second delay. He heard sighs. He heard radio traffic. About the time he figured out that he won, he saw Woodland’s birdie putt to force a playoff slide by on the right.

“So it was a bit strange,” he said. “But the day was awesome.”

Schauffele took another step toward joining the young elite in golf with his second victory this season, and fourth in the last 18 months. He already has two multiple-win seasons in his third year on the PGA Tour. He moved to No. 6 in the world.

“This is the stuff you dream about,” Schauffele said. “But to actually pull it off, it feels awesome. I could see myself doing it, but it’s hard to believe just sitting here and talking about it.”

Xander Schauffele plays a shot on the 15th hole during the final round Sunday of the Sentry Tournament of Champions at the Plantation Course at Kapalua Golf Club in Lahaina, Hawaii. He tied a course record at 11-under 62 while winning the tournament.

In all four of his victories, he had to rally on the final day. Kapalua presented the biggest deficit at five shots. He delivered a record-tying round.

He started with a bogey and figured he had nothing to lose. Before long, he was in position to win. He ran off three straight birdies. He chipped in from the front of the green on the par-5 ninth for eagle. He holed a wedge from 107 yards for another eagle on No. 12. He took his first lead with back-to-back birdies on the 14th and 15th holes, both times coming close to chipping in for more eagles.

Tied with Woodland over the closing holes, Schauffele finished birdie-birdie for a 61 that tied the course record at Kapalua held by four other players.

“It was a crazy day,” Schauffele said. “I knew it was going to be a birdie fest at the end. We kept our head down and made a run for it.”

Woodland had a chance to force a playoff, but he hit his drive on the par-5 18th so far – 390 yards downhill but into a Kona wind – that he was between clubs. He tried to draw a hard 4-iron and left it out to the right, hit a pitch-and-run to 10 feet and missed the birdie putt.

It was a tough loss for Woodland. He started the final round with a three-shot lead and closed with a bogey-free 68. He never shot worse than 68 all week and was the only player in the winners-only field to have all four rounds in the 60s.

It still wasn’t enough.

“This one will sting,” Woodland said.

Schauffele was in the group ahead of him, and Woodland could see as the 25-year-old Californian went after the left flag on the tough 17th hole with a 6-iron to just inside 10 feet for the first birdie of the final round. Woodland hit his approach to just inside 12 feet, and made the second birdie of the day to tie for the lead.

Schauffele wasn’t finished. He hammered a 5-wood onto the green at the 18th to about 12 feet, narrowly missing his third eagle of the final round. He rolled it in for his 62 to finish at 23-under 269, and then had to wait.

Before long, he had a lei around his neck and the trophy in his hands, along with one other perk.

“It means I get to come back, which is even better,” Schauffele said.

Thomas closed with a 65 to finish alone in third.

Woodland couldn’t think of much he did wrong except fail to take advantage of a few pins he could have played to more aggressively. But he found no consolation in losing to a guy who shot 62 in the tougher of the two wind directions on the west end of Maui.

“I don’t think it will ever be easy because I still believe I was playing well enough to shoot 66 today,” Woodland said. “You have an iron into the par 5 in the middle of the fairway on the last hole, you expect to make birdie. I had killed the par 5s all week this week, which is what you’ve got to do out here. So I knew what he was doing and the competitor in me knew I needed to do one better. And unfortunately, I didn’t get it done.”

Neither did Rory McIlroy.

He played in the final group with Woodland, three shots behind, knowing he had played in the final group six times last year without winning. He got within two shots early, but didn’t make a birdie after a two-putt on the par-5 fifth and closed with a 72 to tie for fourth with Dustin Johnson (67) and Marc Leishman (71).

“I gave myself plenty of chances, just couldn’t get anything to drop,” McIlroy said.

Brooks Koepka closed with a 69 to finish 24th, meaning Justin Rose returns to No. 1 in the world.

Small-college story

Missouri Western State is not exactly a pipeline to the PGA Tour.

Neither is Gallatin, Mo., a farming community of 1,800 where Brice Garnett honed his game on a nine-hole course. Thirteen years ago, Garnett was finishing up his degree in business finance with every intention of working for a bank.

“Never thought we’d be here, at Kapalua, playing the Tournament of Champions,” said Garnett, who finished tied for 19th after a 68 on Sunday.

About the only thing he has in common with the other 32 players in the field is winning on the PGA Tour. His victory was last March at the Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship in the Dominican Republic.

What sets him apart is not the five years he spent on the Tour, or even the three years he spent driving across Texas on the Adams Tour in a Chevrolet Equinox his parents gave him for a graduation present.

The PGA Tour is filled with players from big college programs such as Alabama and Oklahoma State, Georgia and Texas. If they don’t stay four years to get a degree, it’s because they’re already prepared to compete against the best in the world.

Garnett is a rarity coming from a school like Missouri Western State, best known as the training camp for the Kansas City Chiefs. He competed against Troy Merritt at Winona State in Minnesota before Merritt — who also was in the field at Kapalua — transferred to Boise State.

William McGirt, who won the Memorial three years ago, played at Wofford, a Division I school in South Carolina known more for its academics than its golf program.

“There’s a lot of great Division II players that I’ve kept my eye on because I keep up with the guys back home,” Garnett said. “You don’t see a lot pushing through.”

He certainly didn’t see himself doing that.

Garnett played mostly regional golf growing up in Gallatin, and he improved enough to dream about playing for the Missouri Tigers. He wrote the golf coach asking if there was room for him. He remembers the day the letter arrived in the mail.

“I got pulled out of class,” he said. “My dad was there. My mom worked there as a teacher. I went to the principal’s office because the letter got mailed back to the school. They all came out to get the good news. The coach wrote on there: ‘Congratulations on a great junior and high school career, but our team is full. You’re welcome to walk on.’

“I pinned that up in my room in college, used that as motivation.”

It wasn’t until his junior year that Garnett got going, winning 12 times over his last two seasons for the Griffons. Still, this was Missouri Western State.

The All-Americans that year included Dustin Johnson and Billy Horschel.

“I had no plans to turn pro until Christmas of my senior year, and Dad brought it to my attention that he might get some money behind me,” Garnett said.

He started on the Adams Tour and worked his way up to the Tour, where he made only four cuts. Then, it was back to the mini-tours. He was playing in the Carolinas and qualifying for Tour events when he could and planning for Q-school when his father suggested he fly to Nashville, Tennessee, for another Monday qualifier.

Brian Stuard went to Oakland University in Michigan. Brandon Harkins, in his second year on the PGA Tour, went to Chico State in California.