Kapalua wind steals the show at Tournament of Champions
You can talk about the fast greens and the soft fairways all you want, but the star of the show at the Plantation Course this week has been the weather.
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KAPALUA, Maui >> You can talk about the fast greens and the soft fairways all you want, but the star of the show at the Plantation Course this week has been the weather.
And whether you’re standing on the tee with the rain blowing in your face or looking at a little left-to-right breaker on the green with the breeze howling across your line, it tends to wear on you by the time you reach the 18th, the longest hole on the PGA Tour at a whopping 675 yards.
With that said, it’s no surprise the scores aren’t as low as they’ve been in the past, when 25 under and beyond was needed if you wanted to hoist the trophy late Sunday afternoon.
This time around it’s only going to take something in the mid to high teens to walk away with the Sentry Tournament of Champions title, perhaps even worse if the tradewinds kick up their heels today in West Maui. The final pairing for the closing 18 features two of the young, bright stars out here in defending champion Xander Schauffele and the 2017 TOC winner Justin Thomas.
Schauffele shot a 2-under 71 to hold off the field for another day at 11-under 208. He has a one-shot advantage over Thomas, whose 4-under 69 left him at 10-under 209 for the event. U.S. Open champ Gary Woodland, who led for most of the tournament last year, also carded a 69, one of only seven rounds in the 60s, to begin the day alone in third at 8-under 211. He eventually lost to Schauffele here last year by one thanks to the blistering 11-under 62 Schauffele fired in the final round.
While Schauffele didn’t think that was possible in the kind of weather folks in these parts have been dealing with the past couple of days, Thomas did, and said as much in the media room following his round. Putting that into context, Schauffele needed 54 holes to match the 11-under number he had in the Sunday round a year ago.
“We definitely have a 62 out there,” Thomas said. “That being said, it’s still going to — if it’s blowing 30 or 35, that’s going to be very difficult. But I’m not saying that someone can’t do it, that’s for sure.”
Schauffele respectively disagreed with that assessment. When he accomplished that feat last year to become the fifth golfer to match the single-round course record, he had a couple of hole-outs along the way to lower that number enough to pass Woodland at the 18th. He believes the weather and the renovations of the course during a nine-month face lift will keep that from happening, particularly today.
“Man, I’d pay a lot to shoot 62, I’ll tell you that much,” Schauffele said. “Probably lap the field with a 62. I don’t see it unless — even if they made the pins really easy, when it’s blowing 25, 30 miles an hour, shooting 62 isn’t really possible. But we’re going to try our best, and if we do it, then I’ll be stoked.”
Both golfers appeared drained after their efforts on moving day. Walking up and down hills laced with mud can take it out of you, especially when you’re forced to concentrate and remain disciplined every step of the way. The scoring average for Saturday’s third round was 72.147, the highest of the week. As a result, it’s a tightly bunched field with a whopping 10 golfers within four shots of the lead.
There are seven golfers tied for fourth at 7-under 212, including world No. 3 Jon Rahm and 2015 TOC champ Patrick Reed. Schauffele trailed Woodland by five last year when he made his improbable run. It’s one thing to chase after a leader in the final round, quite another to hold the advantage over the closing 18. Is he ready for a different challenge than a year ago?
“We’ll find out,” Schauffele said. “I like chasing and I’m used to it. I’ll have to have some sort of number in mind or try to look at the pins and the wind. I’m sure it’s going to be the same (weather conditions), just more. It will be a fun day.”
The final pairing of 26-year-olds is an interesting one in and of itself. Both of these guys have a lot of fire power and belief in themselves. And oh by the way, they hate to lose.
“It will be fun,” Schauffele said. “We just both hate losing. Pretty plain and simple. I mean, he talks openly about how he hates to lose. I don’t know anyone else more competitive than I am. He probably would argue the same way. We both want it and fortunately we’re pretty good friends and we’re familiar with each other’s games. But like I said, it’s going to be sort of what the course is willing to give when it’s blowing 25 miles an hour.”