Late stumble aside and with Jordan Spieth chasing, Xander Schauffele in prime spot to seize third straight win
Xander Schauffele on the first hole during the third round of the Genesis Scottish Open.
Paul Devlin - SNS Group
GULLANE, Scotland — He’s on a roll. Winner of his last two events—the Travelers Championship on the PGA Tour and, earlier this week, the JP McManus Pro-Am in Ireland—Xander Schauffele leads the Genesis Scottish Open with 18 holes to play. The Olympic champion is on 203, seven under par for three laps of the 7,237-yard Renaissance Club layout on the southern shore of the Firth of Forth, two shots clear of 2017 champion Rafa Cabrera-Bello.
A plethora of others remain in contention for the $1.4 million first-place check, more so because of Schauffele’s finish to his four-under 66 round. After making six birdies and no bogeys in his first 16 holes, the leader gave renewed hope to the chasing pack with a brace of dropped shots. Amongst that group are three-time major champion Jordan Spieth, U.S. Open winner Matt Fitzpatrick, Max Homa and longtime leader, Cameron Tringale. The latter, who is winless in 331 previous PGA Tour starts, fell back into a tie for sixth place with an error-strewn 74.
Still, even after his disappointing finish, Schauffele was making mostly positive noises at the end of a third consecutive bright but blustery day in East Lothian.
“I had pretty much everything going,” he said. “I was judging the bounces well and making sort of the putts I need to and getting up and down when I missed a green. Six birdies through 16, no complaints. It was a tough finish, but beating this field—one of the best of the year—would be incredible. But I'm just going to focus on what I can do now and not get too carried away.
“If you play really solid golf with a lead, you're going to win,” he continued. “That's just how it works out here. No, I didn't really like how I finished. But I just heard that I just played the hardest finishing hole on the PGA Tour [this year]. That makes me feel a little bit better. But it's not good for me mentally. I just started off comfortable, warmed up nice and was hitting it well. Then I made some of the worst swings I made all day at the end there. So I have those to clean up.”
Spieth was making even more positive noises in the wake of a 66—highlighted by two eagles—that lifted him from a tie for 20th place to T-3. One day after denouncing reports that he was in negotiations with LIV Golf, the 28-year-old Texan was clearly focused on this co-sanctioned PGA Tour/DP World Tour event.
“Links golf is arguably my favorite kind of golf,” he claimed. “I don't know of any country that has more fantastic links courses than Scotland. There is such rich history here. It would be so meaningful to win Scotland's national championship. It's one of the biggest international events of the year. But right now, I'm just happy to be in position, certainly a lot better position than I was when I finished yesterday's round.”
That was also true of Cabrera-Bello, who moved up six spots into second place. Born and raised in the windy Canary Islands, he claimed an advantage over the crowd of Americans all but surrounding him on the leaderboard—eight are in the top 10—but not so much over the likes of Fitzpatrick.
“I love links courses,” said Cabrera-Bello. “I think it brings the most imagination out of every player. Normally, I tend to hit it fairly straight. If I miss, I tend to hit it thin. On links courses, if you do that, the ball will bounce and reach anyway. Those are a few things that can help me.”
Still, given the way Schauffele is currently performing, the Spaniard and everyone else might need more than that.