Scottie Scheffler still going strong, but Xander Schauffele close in the rear view
ATLANTA – For much of Friday, it appeared as if Scottie Scheffler was determined to turn the final two rounds of the Tour Championship into a stress-free coronation.
With a five-shot lead through 18 holes – after starting the week at 10 under, thanks to the circuit’s strokes-based scoring at the finale – the world No. 1 moved to 19 under with his fourth birdie of the day at No. 12, pulling six clear of the field. It was a deflating sight for those who have spent the last two days trying to chase down the presumptive PGA Tour Player of the Year.
“I started eight back yesterday to the No. 1 player in the world, so it’s not like the greatest spot to be in,” shrugged Max Homa, who shot a round-of-the-week 62 to move to within 10 strokes of Scheffler.
It probably didn’t help the 28 remaining hopefuls that Scheffler has proven to be particularly proficient from the front of the pack. In April at the Masters, he was five shots clear of the field through 36 holes and won his first major by three strokes.
But Scheffler cooled on the back nine and Xander Schauffele torched East Lake, playing his last three holes in 4 under, including an eagle at No. 18. Schauffele fired a 7-under 63 to reach 17 under par, two back of 36-hole leader Scheffler (66). Jon Rahm (63) stood alone in third place at 13 under.
Given the direction the lead was heading, it set up a much more interesting weekend.
“It would be better to be two shots ahead. But yeah, it’s just kind of head down. There’s a lot of golf to be played on this property,” said Schauffele, who was eight shots behind Scheffler through three holes on Friday. “He’s doing all the right things. He’s playing very solid, not making any mistakes; when he is out of position, putting it in a good spot for his short game, making good putts. He’s going to be a tough guy to beat.”
Scheffler, despite his shrunken advantage, remains confident heading into the weekend. As he was when he started the week, he’s two strokes ahead – and playing some of his best golf since winning four times in the spring.
Following his solid start, Scheffler began to struggle off the tee on the back nine Friday, hitting just three of seven fairways and playing his last three holes in even par. On Thursday, he played the last three holes in 3 under on his way to an opening 65.
“I think it’s a position I’m comfortable in. I like being in positions where I’m able to win tournaments, and it’s something I’ve grown more comfortable with over time,” Scheffler said. “I played well with the lead at the Masters this year, and that was definitely a lot of pressure. This week is definitely a good amount of pressure, as well.”