KAPALUA, Hawaii – Gary Woodland has held the 54-hole lead seven times throughout his career.
Xander Schauffele doesn’t know what that feels like.
Schauffele is used to moving up from behind the pack and he did it again Sunday, shooting 11-under 62 while overcoming a 6-stroke deficit to beat Woodland by a shot and pick up his fourth career PGA Tour win at the Tournament of Champions.
“I think the next step in my career is to learn to be cool under the gun, having a lead and maintaining it,” Schauffele said.
First things first for the 25-year-old – Appreciate a day like Sunday’s final round at Kapalua’s Plantation Course. It included two spectacular eagles, first with a 54-foot putt at the par-5 ninth and later a 106-yard hole-out at the par-4 12th.
His final round showing capped a 23-under 269 for the week.
“I was just flowing pretty smoothly,” said Schauffele, who despite his youth seems more at ease with himself than most Tour players in the interview chair.
Here is a player who burst onto the scene and began winning big events very quickly, most notably while spoiling FedEx Cup winner Justin Thomas’ victory lap at the 2017 Tour Championship.
That brings us to Woodland and the cruel nature of competition. For some, like Schaufelle, winning seems to come so easily. For others it seems very hard despite talent that is not disproportional to ones counterparts.
Woodland has failed to convert all seven of those 54-hole leads. This week marked his 10th career runner-up finish compared to three Tour wins, all of them via comeback.
He shot 5-under 68 throughout a bogey-free final round but couldn’t birdie the par-5 18th in order to force a playoff, missing a 10-foot putt after a mediocre chip shot. Woodland stood tall and congratulated Schauffele outside the scoring trailer ahead of a post-round interview press conference, a request some players definitely would have turned down.
“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 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 entered the final round three shots behind Woodland before another disappointing Sunday. He was pleased with his game after shooting 1-under 71 and said he just couldn’t get any putts to fall.
Justin Thomas finished alone in third at 18 under while McIlroy finished T-4 at alongside Marc Leishman and Dustin Johnson at 15 under.
“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.”
Schauffele is sure to become a big name in 2019, joining the likes of fellow young guns Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth and others. And despite this wild run of success to start his career, the San Diego State grade is leaving Maui with even bigger goals in mind.
“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.”