Open ef­fort paves way for Schauf­fele

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - SPORTS -

WHITE SUL­PHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. — A strong fin­ish in the U.S. Open late month helped pre­pare Xan­der Schauf­fele for the nerve-rack­ing grind of chas­ing a ti­tle on the PGA Tour.

The rookie made a 3-foot birdie putt on the fi­nal hole Sun­day to win The Green­brier Clas­sic by a stroke over Robert Streb for his first tour vic­tory.

Schauf­fele closed with a 3-un­der 67 and fin­ished at 14-un­der 266 to cap a day­long duel with Streb and thir­dround leader Se­bas­tian Munoz.

Streb shot 69. Munoz had a 72 to tie for third with Jamie Love­mark at 12 un­der. Love­mark shot 69.

Schauf­fele, 23, who took

up golf af­ter giv­ing up soc­cer be­cause his coaches wanted him to switch from of­fense to de­fense, tied for fifth in his first U.S. Open at Erin Hills.

“The U.S. Open was a huge moment in my ca­reer,” Schauf­fele said. “It was one of the big­gest stages, and for me to be calm and col­lected through­out the week and just kind of hang on and tie for fifth was huge for me men­tally. It kind of gave me the con­fi­dence and al­lowed me to play to win this week.”

Watch­ing fel­low young­ster Jon Rahm of Spain win the Ir­ish Open ear­lier Sun­day also served as mo­ti­va­tion for Schauf­fele, who shot from 94th to 27th in the FedEx Cup stand­ings.

“Ev­ery­body knows I’m a late bloomer,” Schauf­fele said. “To jump into the top 30 is some­thing spe­cial for me.”

Schauf­fele, Streb, Munoz and Love­mark earned spots in the Bri­tish Open in two weeks. The lead­ing four play­ers not al­ready ex­empt from the top12 fin­ish­ers qual­i­fied. Russell Hen­ley was the only player among the top 10 fin­ish­ers who al­ready was in.

Schauf­fele also punched a ticket to this year’s PGA Cham­pi­onship and next year’s Masters. He al­ready had a spot in the 2018 U.S. Open for last month’s per­for­mance.

He’s the third rookie to earn their first tour vic­tory in West Vir­ginia and the fourth over­all. The oth­ers were for­mer U.S. Am­a­teur cham­pion Danny Lee in 2015 and Scott Stallings in 2011, along with Ted Pot­ter Jr. in 2013.

It was an­other close fin­ish in a tour­na­ment that nar­rowly avoided its fourth play­off since de­but­ing in 2010.

Munoz, Streb and Schauf­fele traded the lead all day with each hav­ing their share of trou­bles.

As Schauf­fele reached the 161-yard 18th with a pitch­ing wedge, Munoz and Streb heard the crowd’s roar from the par-5 17th green and both missed birdie putts.

Streb then found the left rough on 18 and his chip that would have forced a play­off came up short. Munoz needed to ace the 18th to tie it, but set­tled for par.

Munoz couldn’t be­come the first-to-wire win­ner of the tour­na­ment, which no third-round leader has ever won. The rookie also led the St. Jude Clas­sic at the half­way point last month, but tied for 60th. Sun­day marked his first top-10 fin­ish.

“I’ll take it as a pos­i­tive,” he said. “It’s my best fin­ish ever. It’s not like I can be mad about it.”

Munoz’s put­ter was his strength in the first three

rounds and his down­fall Sun­day. The 24-year-old Colom­bian made four bo­geys on the front nine, in­clud­ing a pair of three-putts.

Streb had his sec­ond nar- row miss in the tour­na­ment. He lost in a four-man play­off in 2015, the last time it was played.

Streb re­took a share of the lead with Munoz with a 32foot birdie putt at No. 14, only to wit­ness Schauf­fele pull it out in the end.

“I heard the racket. You could see it,” Streb said. “I had my chances and just didn’t do very well with them.”

Love­mark dou­bled-bo­geyed the first hole to fall five shots back and made three birdies over his next 12 holes but never held the lead. He had his fourth top-10 fin­ish this sea­son.

At age 53, Davis Love III fell short in his bid to be­come the old­est-ever win­ner on tour. Love started his round four strokes back, bo­geyed the first two holes and was never a threat. He shot 75 and tied for 29th at 5 un­der.

David Ling­merth (Arkansas Ra­zor­backs) shot a 1-over71 Sun­day to fin­ish 1-over-281 for the tour­na­ment and win $14,981.

AP/STEVE HELBER

Xan­der Schauf­fele was three shots off the lead go­ing into the fi­nal round of the Green­brier Clas­sic on Sun­day, but the rookie made a three-foot birdie on the fi­nal hole to close with a 3-un­der 67 and win for the first time on the PGA Tour.

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