Thomas, Schauffele spin wheels with final-round 66s

Justin Thomas reacts to sinking his birdie putt on the third hole during the final round of the Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club on Monday, Sept. 7, 2020 in Atlanta.  Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com
Justin Thomas reacts to sinking his birdie putt on the third hole during the final round of the Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club on Monday, Sept. 7, 2020 in Atlanta. Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Neither can overcome Dustin Johnson at Tour Championship

When Justin Thomas scared the hole with his 74-yard approach shot at No. 18 and watched it finish six feet away from the hole, he could only shrug. It was typical of his day. He had thrown everything he had at Dustin Johnson, but there was just too much ground to make up.

The same was true of Xander Schauffele, who marched in Johnson’s shadow all afternoon, but couldn’t summon enough of his East Lake mojo to make a difference. The man who has never shot any score higher than par on the course was left playing for beer money – OK, beer-factory money – on the final hole.

Both men shot 66 on Monday, a remarkable effort amid the pressure of a final round of a big-money golf tournament. They finished the tournament at 18 under, three behind Johnson. Turns out they would have needed a 63 just to tie Johnson. And no one shot a 63 all week.

Thomas shot 66 for third time this week at East Lake this week. But he began the week three shots behind Johnson, based on the weighted scoring, and started the final found five shots behind. All he could do was put his head down and grind.

“I didn’t look (at the scoreboard) today,” Thomas said. “I was so far back I felt like I needed to kind of get in my own little world and make as many birdies as I could.”

Schauffele had the best scoring rounds of the week – 67-65-67-66 – but could never overcome the seven-shot deficit with which he started. He said the proper man won.

“(Johnson) deserves to win,” Schauffele said. “He won the first (playoff event), tied for first in the second, and I don’t know where he finished here, but he obviously is playing great golf, and I think that’s what the playoffs are all about.”

Thomas, playing alongside Jon Rahm in the penultimate group, came out of the gate blazing. He birdied five of the first six holes, not even realizing he was just marking time and not getting any closer to creating a spike in Johnson’s imperceptible pulse rate.

“I didn’t worry about DJ,” he said. “First time I saw (a scoreboard) was on 12 and saw that he was 1 under. I was right there. I had a great chance. Felt like my (two) bogeys on the front were really from not bad shots, and I made enough birdies to at least give myself a chance on the back nine, which was all I could ask for being five back to start the day.”

But Thomas didn’t make a birdie on the back nine until the 16th hole, a little 11 footer that caused a little stir. Then he left his drive on the 17th well to the right and put his second shot in the bunker. His gloveless blast from the sand ignored his pleas to stop and came to a halt about 11 feet from the hole. He missed the putt, took a bogey and finished with the birdie at 18.

Schauffele’s best move came after birdies at No. 10 and 11 pulled him to within two shots of Johnson. But Schauffele bogeyed the 13th while Johnson coaxed in a 21-footer for par, and what little momentum he had built was extinguished.

“I bogeyed 13, and then he parred,” Schauffele said. “That was a big swing. He’s here to win the tournament. He made that putt, which I didn’t. That was a pinnacle moment, I think.”