In the last elite Tour event of the 2018 calendar year, Xander Schauffele shot a final-round 4-under par 68 in difficult conditions, and prevailed in a playoff against proverbial bridesmaid Tony Finau at the WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai, China.
On his 25th birthday, Schauffele began the week in Shanghai with a stellar opening round of 66, and followed it up with a Friday 71 and a 69 on Saturday, which secured a spot in Sunday’s final pairing alongside Finau, and defending champion Justin Rose.
With high winds drying out Sheshan International Golf Club, leading to few red scores in the field, Schauffele again proved himself as one of the PGA Tour’s premier big-game players, carding six birdies on the day, and hitting clutch shot after clutch shot down the stretch to erase what was a three-shot advantage for Finau to start the day.
His Sunday 68 was the low-round in the field, and with birdies on Nos. 17, 18, and 18 again (playoff hole), Schauffele snagged the third victory of his young career – his first since his surprising triumph at the 2017 Tour Championship.
The victory from the San Diego native completed an American sweep in the 2018 WGC events, and capped off a thrilling 2018-19 PGA Tour Asian swing, an annual three-week stretch of play that also included stops in Kuala Lumpur and Jeju Island.
Schauffele will head back to America as the early-season leader in the FedExCup standings, and should be able extract considerable confidence from a 2018 that also saw him contend at THE PLAYERS Championship (T2), the U.S. Open (T6), and The Open Championship (T2).
Final Top 10
1. Xander Schauffele -14 (-4)
2. Tony Finau -14 (-1)
3. Justin Rose -10 (E)
4. Kiradech Aphibarnrat -8 (-1)
4. Andrew Putnam -8 (E)
6. Keegan Bradley -7 (E)
7. Patrick Cantlay -5 (E)
7. Thorbjorn Olesen -5 (E)
7. Tommy Fleetwood -5 (+3)
7. Patrick Reed -5 (+5)
11. Haotong Li, Billy Horschel, Jason Day -4
16. Brooks Koepka, Paul Casey -2
18. Adam Scott -1
21. Ian Poulter E
22. Jon Rahm +1
30. Hideki Matsuyama, Dustin Johnson +3
43. Francesco Molinari +7
54. Rory McIlroy +10
How Xander Schauffele Won the WGC-HSBC Champions
Despite many elite players highlighting the World Golf Championship field, Sunday quickly became a three-horse race, with Schauffele, Finau, and Rose sprinting out well ahead of the competition early.
Three front-nine birdies saw Schauffele turn in 2 under and close two-thirds of the advantage Finau held to start the day. Bogeys from Finau on Nos. 11 and 12 created a two-person co-lead, but a birdie on 14 got Finau back out front by one.
With two holes to play, Finau was leading at 13 under, with Schauffele a stroke back, and world No. 3 Rose two behind. Showing the enviable composure that has made his career such a success, Schauffele calmly birdied the par-3 17th after a clutch tee shot, and then was able to two-putt for birdie after reaching the par-5 18th green in two.
Rose, needing an eagle on 18 to stay alive, saw his championship hopes end with a laser approach shot that smashed into Schauffele’s ball, sending both balls careening into the water (Schauffele was allowed to drop and was not penalized).
Finau made a clutch birdie of his own to knot the tournament at 14-under at the end of regulation.
The 2018 PGA Tour season saw some extraordinarily long playoff events, but this one did not follow suit. Heading back to the 18th for the first extra hole, Finau sent his drive into the face of a bunker, necessitating a lay-up for the bomber.
Schauffele again hit the green in two and two-putted for birdie, his third in a row. When Finau left his 20-foot birdie putt inches short, the tournament was over.
What It Means For Schauffele
Following a wildly successful 2017 season where he was named PGA Tour Rookie of the Year, Schauffele had a somewhat up and down sophomore season – going winless, yet he consistently contended on the biggest stages.
This big-game reputation, and steely composure, made him a prime candidate for a Ryder Cup wild-card pick, but American Captain Jim Furyk passed on the then 24-year old in favor of two experienced players in Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, and two hotter (at the time) youngsters in Bryson DeChambeau and Finau.
Schauffele, however, is emassing a resume that will likely land him on many future Ryder (and President’s) Cup teams. And one thing is sure, he’ll definitely not be under-the-radar for any future big-profile events.
In terms of standings, the win earned Schauffele $1,700,000 and 550 FedExCup points, which will move him to No.1 on both the money list and points standings. He also picked up 66 OWGR points and is projected to move to a position inside the top 13 in the world rankings.
Another Near-Miss For Finau
A runner-up finish at this WGC event would be a phenomenal result for most of the field, but for Finau, who started Sunday with a three-stroke advantage, it represents yet another near-miss as he attempts to capture his first career victory in a non-opposite field event (his only win came at the 2016 Puerto Rico Open).
In 2018, Finau found himself consistently in the mix, as his eleven top 10s were one short of Dustin Johnson for the most on Tour, but he was never quite able to close the deal.
On three occasions, Finau finished second, with the last of those coming in the first leg of the FedExCup Playoffs. The 29-year-old is now widely recognized as one of the best American golfers, but he knows he needs that breakthrough victory to really put his stamp on the golf world. It would be shocking if that victory does not come very soon.
Coming off a victory at last week’s CJ Cup @ Nine Bridges, Brooks Koepka was playing the HSBC Champions as his first event since first reaching the No. 1 spot in the world rankings.
The 2018 PGA Tour Player of the Year had a forgettable first three rounds, but found his groove on Sunday, carding five birdies as part of a 3-under 69 that vaulted him 12 spots up the final leaderboard into a share of 16th place.
The other man who shot 69 to post the co-second best round of the day was Open Champion Golfer of the Year Francesco Molinari, whose 24-spot rise was the biggest jump in the Sunday field. Molinari struggled badly in his first three rounds, however, and finished a disappointing T43 in the 77-man field.
As China’s highest-ranked player (by far), 23-year-old Haotong Li was a very popular man this week. He gave the Sunday crowd much to cheer about as four birdies over his final six holes led to a 2-under 70, one of the best rounds of the day.
Masters Champion Patrick Reed has been in a slump since finishing solo-fourth at June’s U.S. Open, but looked ready to bust out at Shenshan after an opening 8-under 64 had him on top of the leaderboard after one day.
He was still in the mix going into Sunday, but was unable to get anything going in the dry conditions, posting a 5-over 77 that included just one birdie. Reed finished in a tie for 7th.
Also in that 7th place tie was reigning European Tour Race to Dubai Champion Tommy Fleetwood, who put up yet another uneven performance. Fleetwood carded four birdies, but seven bogeys, to shoot a 3-over 75.
Jason Day was a popular pick to contend at Shenshan this week, and he did relatively well through three rounds, but he was surprisingly unable to take advantage of the par-5s, leading to a mediocre 2-over 74 to place T11 for the second consecutive year.
“It means a lot. Last season, I really wanted to justify my rookie year by winning, and I wasn’t able to do that, but I guess it wasn’t the same season, but it was the same calendar year, so I’ll take it.”
– Xander Schauffele