Xander Schauffele becomes first rookie to win PGA Tour Championship
ATLANTA - Xander Schauffele ended his rookie season by winning the Tour Championship. Justin Thomas ended the best season with the FedEx Cup.
Schauffele, a 23-year-old from San Diego who was worried about keeping his PGA Tour card just over three months ago, swirled in a 3-foot birdie putt on the final hole Sunday for a 2-under 68 and a one-shot victory over Thomas.
He became the first PGA Tour rookie to win the Tour Championship since it began in 1987.
Thomas never had more reason to celebrate finishing second. He capped off a season of five victories, including his first major at the PGA Championship, by claiming the FedEx Cup and the $10 million bonus.
The surprise guest to the party was Schauffele.
“It’s been a wild ride,” he said.
The road of a champion
It began with a tie for fifth in his U.S. Open debut, and he followed that a month later by winning the Greenbrier Classic. He wouldn’t even have been at the Tour Championship until he played his final six holes in 6 under par last week at Conway Farms to get into the top 30 in the FedEx Cup.
And then he played like he belonged on such a big stage.
Starting on the par-3 11th hole, he one-putted four straight greens from outside 6 feet - one of them for birdie, the rest for pars, all of them clutch. Thomas caught up with birdies on the 16th and 17th, but the PGA champion missed the fairway on the 567-yard closing hole and couldn’t reach the green in two. His 25-foot birdie putt snapped off to the left just in front of the cup.
Schauffele saved par from right of the 17th green for the fourth time on the back nine, and then smashed a 347-yard tee shot on the 18th that left him an approach just short of the green. He putted that up to 3 feet and then nearly missed. The ball hit the left edge and swirled 270 degrees before dropping in the front.
But it was enough to finish at 12-under 268, a victory worth $3.75 million, $2 million of that for finishing third in the FedEx Cup.
“My hands were shaking so much,” Schauffele said. “I’m still kind of in shock.”
Thomas was among the first to congratulate him outside the scoring room.
“It was a grueling day for sure,” Thomas said.
Thomas won more than the FedEx Cup. He also wrapped up the PGA of America’s points-based award for player of the year. He’s a lock to get the players’ vote as PGA Tour player of the year, and he won the Arnold Palmer Award for claiming the money title with more than $10 million.
Needing a bit of luck
Thomas wrapped up the FedEx Cup when Jordan Spieth, the No. 1 seed, couldn’t sustain momentum after holing out from the 10th fairway for eagle and nearly holing out again from the 13th fairway. Spieth closed with a 67 and tied for seventh, earning a $3 million bonus for finishing second in the FedEx Cup.
He had few regrets, not after a season in which his three victories included the British Open.
“J.T. obviously is very well deserving of winning the FedEx Cup,” Spieth said. “Not winning a playoff event, I almost cheated my way into winning the FedEx Cup when he really deserved it.”