Rozner: Rising star Schauffele in mix for FedEx Cup

  • Xander Schauffele tees off on the first hole during the third round of the BMW Championship at Medinah Saturday.

    Xander Schauffele tees off on the first hole during the third round of the BMW Championship at Medinah Saturday. Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 8/17/2019 8:18 PM

When you win the Tour Championship in your rookie year, it carries with it a certain status and tends to bring great attention to the player.

Now, that's not something you would normally consider a problem, but Xander Schauffele also won't pretend it hasn't been a factor in his career.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Only 25 years old, the 5-foot-10 Schauffele is sneaky good and the No. 11 player in the world, but he thought even bigger things would come quickly after winning twice in his rookie season of 2017.

And patience is only a virtue if you can locate it.

"That success early affected me for sure my sophomore year on Tour," Schauffele said. "I had high expectations. I had a really bad start to my rookie year and finished it off in -- what I would consider to be -- dream fashion."

Usually overlooked is that Schauffele would have never made it to the final playoff event in 2017 had he not finished the BMW at Conway Farms by playing the final 6 holes in 6-under, vaulting him on the back nine on Sunday from 32nd place to 26th.

If not for that Top 30 finish, and what occurred the next week at the Tour Championship, this conversation would be entirely different.

"Going into my sophomore year, I don't think I did very well just because I expected the world," Schauffele said. "Everything was easy when I was playing well, so I got a little bit greedy my sophomore year.

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"I feel like now in my junior year we've figured out how to handle things a little bit better.

"I still get a little hungry at times and need to take a step back with majors and big tournaments and even playoff events.

"I missed the cut last week (in New Jersey) expecting to have a great week. Sometimes, it's good to be put in check and it's nice to be back out here."

Schauffele opened the BMW Championship with a 5-under 67 at Medinah, and returned Friday with a 68, but managed only a 2-under 70 in very soft conditions with no wind Saturday.

At 11-under, he has no chance to catch leader Justin Thomas, who shot a ridiculous 61 Saturday and is 21-under, but Schauffele remains in the Top 10 in the FedEx Cup.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

He's certainly good enough to win any week he plays, and has been a popular pick in the major championships after finishing fifth in the U.S. Open at Erin Hills in his very first major in 2017.

He had a sixth in the national championship last year and a T-2 at the Open Championship. This year, he was second at the Masters and third at the U.S. Open.

It's only a matter of time.

And as if his major tournament history wasn't enough, he began 2019 by firing an 11-under, final-round 62 at the Tournament of Champions at Kapalua, overtaking Gary Woodland, who started Sunday with a 5-shot lead.

Woodland shot 5-under on a bogey-free Sunday, only to lose by a shot to Schauffele.

"After Maui, right away you start thinking this could be a major year, but in my book it's been relatively quiet since," Schauffele said. "If I think back to that Sunday in Hawaii, I was very relaxed, very calm.

"I know what I'm capable of doing and that Sunday I was just free flowing. It's a good thing to look back on and to try to get back to that mental state."

With a pair of victories and five Top 10s this year, that's a great season by almost any standards, but he hasn't done much since the U.S. Open two months ago. He's also played only three events the last two months.

But following the extraordinary win in Atlanta to end his rookie year, he was winless last season with seven Top 10s.

Expectations are funny, especially when driven by the golfing world after such a breakout victory.

"It affects everyone, but if you want to be the best -- or beat the best -- it's part of the game. It's part of every sport," said Schauffele, who played a year at Long Beach State before transferring to San Diego State. "When you've been an underdog your whole life, it's easy to not expect much.

"But once you start playing in the limelight, people expect you to play well and when you don't they'll criticize you.

"I don't mind it at all. I think being a top player in the world, you have to have results. When you don't, people call you out. My team calls me out when I'm not doing my job. There's always an accountability factor."

The youngster is very hard on himself, maybe too hard on himself, but the great ones expect greatness, and Schauffele expects to be one of the best.

He arrived in Chicago seventh in the FedEx Cup -- meaning he's had a better year than he gives himself credit for -- and with a good finish here at Medinah he will put himself in a strong position heading back to Atlanta, where he's obviously had huge success.

"It doesn't feel like I've had a really good year because I haven't played great recently," Schauffele said. "But the season is a long one and it's not over, so I'm looking forward to finishing it off the proper way.

"With a big tournament like that (in Atlanta) and a lot at stake, it's nice to know that I've played well at a course that we're familiar with at this point."

Young and tough and talented and teeming with huge expectations.

You might want to buy stock in Xander Schauffele.

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