Players 2024: Xander Schauffele's wonder shot secures bogey-free 65, share of first-round lead

March 14, 2024

Kevin C. Cox

PONTE VEDRA BEACH — When asked how many times he could pull off his seventh hole recovery if he tried 100 times, Xander Schauffele thought for a moment before delivering his verdict.

"About 30," he said. "Ish."

At seven under for the day, Schauffele came to the seventh hole (late on his back nine) needing steady play to at least be near the very top of the leaderboard. Instead, he pushed his drive 278 yards into the woods on the right, and all indications pointed to the safe play—chip it sideways to the fairway. The problem was the safe play wasn't exactly safe.

"There was a huge stump where my right foot was going," he said, "and to pitch out it would have been up and over to a fairway I couldn't see with a leaf behind my ball going that direction, and it was like a 50-yard shot."

Considering the difficulty in the conservative play, the dangerous shot started to seem like a risk that might be worth taking. He had 163 yards to the front edge, but the trees presented a looming vertical obstacle, and he knew he'd need to get the ball even higher than his 8-iron would normally abide. He told his caddie Austin Kaiser that he could live with the "hero shot"—a high sweep that would skirt the bunker and water—and he gave it a go.

The result was about as good as it could have been, clearing the bunker on the right side of the fairway and leaving him 46 yards from the flag. Following that mini miracle, he was left with a single thought: "Once I hit it on short grass I just told myself to pay it off and get up-and-down no matter what." After a nifty pitch to four feet, he converted the unlikely par and kept his bogey-free round going. He finished with two more pars and came in tied for the first-round lead with Rory McIlroy at seven under.

Nor was that Schauffele's only escape. On the fifth, after an errant drive that the wind saved from the water, he faced a 152-yard second shot with the ball well below his feet in the thicker-than-normal rough across the hazard line. With no trees standing in his way, this time he hit his approach to three feet and converted his seventh and final birdie of the day:

Safely in with a 65, Schauffele knew he'd been fortunate not to drop at least one shot in the closing stretch.

"I wouldn't want to re-hit a few of those shots today, I can tell you that much," he joked.

Schauffele will tee off in the afternoon wave on Friday, trying to capitalize on Thursday's results and get closer to securing what would be his first win since the summer of 2022.