Schauffele Shoots 63, Cuts Scheffler’s Lead to 2 Shots in Tour Championship

Top-ranked Scottie Scheffler stayed in the lead, although fifth-ranked Xander Schauffele closed the gap.

Scheffler, who entered the day with a five-stroke margin, carded a bogey-free 66, but Schauffele (pictured) shot 63 including an eagle on the last hole and climbed to within two shots of the lead midway through the Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta.

The winner of the PGA Tour season finale will take home the FedEx Cup.

“I played well again and 4-under with no bogeys is a good round, but Xander just played really well—especially those last three holes,” said Scheffler, who has won four tournaments this season on the PGA Tour, including the Masters. “I didn’t look at the scoreboards again, but I was playing alongside Xander, so I knew what was going on.

“Xander plays well here all the time and he had a really good round today. It felt like I played as well as I did yesterday and made some birdie putts, but I hit some good putts today that just didn’t go in. I just want to hit the fairways and greens to give myself as many birdie opportunities as I can.

“It should be a good battle with Xander and some other guys the next couple of days.”

Scheffler, who won the 2016 East Lake Cup when he was a junior at Texas, birdied three of the first six holes and added one more at No. 16 in his 66 after opening with a 65, and had a six-stroke lead until Schauffele’s hot finish.

Schauffele, the 2021 Olympic Gold Medalist from La Jolla and San Diego State who opened with a 66, made his only bogey on the third hole before playing a flawless 8-under the rest of the day, including birdies on the 16th and 17th holes ahead of his five-foot eagle putt after a brilliant approach shot from 236 yards on the last hole.

“I probably hit that (last shot) with a 4-iron a little farther right than I wanted, but I hit it solid and it ended up in a great spot,” said Schauffele, who has won three times this season and captured the 2017 Tour Championship among five straight finishes in the top 10 at East Lake. “To get it to within five or six feet was just a bonus and gave me a great chance for eagle. This course just fits my eye and the greens are just really pure.

“All I want to do here is hit the fairways and greens to give myself a chance at birdies because the rough can be difficult, and I’ve been able to do that most of the time, including the last few days. It helped that we were able to play lift, clean and place the first two days.

“This course just fits into the way I play and I just want to keep doing what I’ve done the first two days, just keep playing golf on the weekend.”

Sixth-ranked Jon Rahm of Spain, who finished second in the Tour Championship last year and has won 14 times as a pro, birdie five of the first eight holes en route to another 63 and is six shots back in solo third, while third-ranked Patrick Cantlay of Los Alamitos and UCLA, who won the Tour Championship and the FedEx Cup last year, had a bogey-free 66 and is seven down in a tie for fourth with Sungjae Im of South Korea, who chipped in from 81 yards at No. 6 to highlight his 65.

Said the formerly top-ranked Rahm: “The front nine was pretty good, but I had to grind a bit on the back, which seems strange to say when you shoot 63. I missed the greens at 14, 17 and 18, but was able to make some nice saves. I made a silly mistake at No. 17 for my only bogey, but I made some really nice putts. Every shot matters and you have to minimize your mistakes, and I was able to do that for the most part the first two days. There are two rounds left, 36 holes, and that’s a lot of golf. It will be tough, but it’s do-able the way I’m playing right now.”

Joaquin Niemann of Chile holed a 22-foot eagle putt at No. 18 to cap a 67 and is eight strokes behind in solo sixth, followed by third-ranked Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland, who is nine shots back in solo seventh after a second 67, this one bogey-free.

Max Homa of Valencia and Cal collected six birdies before sinking a four-foot eagle putt on No. 18 to cap a bogey-free 62 and is 10 behind in a tie for eighth with Tom Hoge, who birdied four of the last six holes for a 66, and rookie Cameron Young, who played bogey-free for a second 67.

Seventh-ranked Justin Thomas, the PGA champion, birdied three of the last six holes for 68 and is in a tie for 11th that includes 10th-ranked Matt Fitzpatrick of England, who birdied the last hole to salvage a 71, while second-ranked Cameron Smith of Australia, the 122nd Open champion, also closed with a birdie for a 71 and is in a tie for 15th that includes eight-ranked Collin Morikawa of La Canada Flintridge and Cal, who came in with a 69.

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