No surprise to see Xander Schauffele back in contention

Xander Schauffele and his caddie line up his third shot on the 18th hole where he finished with a par at 11 under during the second round of the Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club on Saturday, Sept. 5, 2020 in Atlanta. Curtis Compton /

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Xander Schauffele showed again Saturday that East Lake is his own personal Xanadu, a place filled with trophies and treasures. Perhaps there’s even room for another Tour Championship trophy.

The 2017 Tour Championship winner once again exhibited his mastery of the course, closing with three consecutive birdies to shoot a 5-under 65. It leaves Schauffele at 11 under par under the tournament’s weighted scoring, just two shots off the lead for the FedEx Cup title.

“I think some statisticians could tell you, but certain holes fit my eye, and I just enjoy being out here,” he said. “So, it’s lucky for me.”

Ironically, Schauffele’s fortunes took a turn in the right direction after a near-disastrous double-bogey on the par-3 11th hole Friday left him even for the day. Since then he’s made nine birdies and only one bogey.

“(The double bogey) was a huge hiccup,” Schauffele said. “I would have lost a lot of money if someone told me I was going to chip it off a green from being about a foot off the green.”

That double debacle could have been avoided had Schauffele simply requested relief, as he was entitled to do since he was standing on a sprinkler head. Instead he impatiently went ahead and hit the shot, and it zoomed off the green. His third shot stayed on the hill, and he just missed the putt for a bogey.

It was an unforced error, one the heady Schauffele rarely makes – especially at East Lake.

“It was a very childish mistake, very amateur-esque,” he said. “It happens to us, and unfortunately it happened yesterday.”

The only person with a better record than Scahuffele at East Lake is Tom Cousins, who saved the golf course and revitalized the neighborhood. In 14 rounds at East Lake, Schauffele’s worst score is an even-par 70. Saturday was the third time he’s shot 65 or better.

His scoring average on the course is 67.5. By comparison, Tiger Woods’ stroke average at East Lake is 69.88. Phil Mickelson’s is 70.33. Rory McIlroy’s is 68.42. It’s hardly a pitch-and-putt. It just works for Schauffele.

“You kind of have to do everything really well,” he said. “I think that’s why I really like it. It’s really fair. It’s right in front of you. I don’t know why I play well here.”

Schauffele likes the small, sloped greens at East Lake. He likes how the old-school course requires accurate and strategic driving. Knowing that, he spent additional time preparing to strike the sort of well-placed tee shots that would be needed.

“We worked pretty hard at it the back end of last week and early into this week,” he said. “I think everyone is aware if you’re not in the fairway this week, the rough is thick, and it’s nastier than I’ve ever seen.”

The wet Atlanta summer – 16 days of rain at East Lake in August – has caused the Bermuda rough to be lusher and thicker than ever. He’s hit 57.1 percent of the fairways this week and hit 69.4 percent of greens in regulation.

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