“I’ll take a win any time, anyway. I’m not picky,” Schauffele said Sunday, though he admitted, “it feels better” to win as the 54-hole leader.
It’s more rewarding,” he added.
Schauffele started his career by going 0-4 when starting Sunday with the lead. However, things are starting to change. First, Schauffele won the Olympic gold medal over local favorite Hideki Matsuyama after taking a one-time lead into the final round.
Then Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay produced a front-running victory at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans in May. Last month’s Travelers Championship was the first of Schauffele’s five individual TOUR titles that he won as the 54-hole leader, however.
“It’s what I want to do,” he said.
He has another chance Sunday. He leads by two at the Genesis Scottish Open after shooting a 66 that matched the low score on another windy day at Renaissance Club. Rafa Cabrera Bello is in second place, while a pair of Texans, – Jordan Spieth and Ryan Palmer – are three back, along with England’s Jordan Smith, who already has won this week, taking home a car for both he and his caddie after making an ace on the 17th hole Friday.
U.S. Open champion Matt Fitzpatrick is four back, as is TOUR rookie Alex Smalley and Cameron Tringale, who is 6 over par after a first-round 61 that had him three ahead of the field.
Schauffele is looking to continue another trend, as well. He has been unbeatable in recent weeks, winning the Travelers two weeks ago before beating a strong field at the unofficial J.P. McManus Pro-Am on Tuesday in Ireland. Schauffele led entering the final round there, as well, shooting 64-70 to finish a shot ahead of FedExCup No. 2 Sam Burns.
“You see players do it all the time, you get in the good swing of things, start to get comfortable seeing certain shots and seeing certain putts go in,” Schauffele said. “Players always have good stretches and try to make this one of my best.”
It’s well-timed, as well, with the 150th Open at St. Andrews around the corner. Schauffele was runner-up in the 2018 Open Championship after losing the first 54-hole lead of his career.
He’s trying to win back-to-back TOUR starts for the second time in his career, though his victories in the 2018 World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions and Sentry Tournament of Champions were separated by several weeks.
How well is Schauffele playing? He’s leading despite playing from the harder half of the draw, following a first-round 72 in this week’s toughest conditions of the week with a 65 and 66.
“If you’re trying to win when you’re on the bad side, you just have to be better,” he said.
Cabrera Bello has experience on his side at Renaissance Club, a links-inspired course built and owned by Americans. He won here five years ago, and surged into contention Saturday by playing the first four holes of the back nine in five under.
“I’ve been lucky enough to have won here before,” he said. “I always want to win, if not the Home of Golf, the country where golf was invented, playing links golf and with beautiful, sunny and windy conditions, it just makes it even more fun.”
Schauffele also took advantage of the scoring holes on the back nine, starting with a birdie on No. 11 after hitting a provisional tee shot because he feared his first was lost. Birdies on 13, 15 and 16 gave him a four-shot lead, but he bogeyed the last two holes to halve his advantage.
“Made some of the worst swings all day at the end there,” Schauffele said. “Just have to clean it up.”
His experience as a leader has helped him confront the situations that await Sunday. He said he “needed” the Olympic victory.
“I needed to get over the hump. I needed to … win while having the lead,” he said.
That experience helped him keep calm at the Travelers Championship, admitting things moved too quickly the previous times he held a lead.
“I’d be sitting back in the hotel or … house on Sunday thinking, ‘What happened today?’” he said. He is better prepared and playing better, setting the stage for a win that would make him one of the favorites entering The Open.
Xander Schauffele was the comeback kid earlier in his career, winning with low scores on Sundays to overtake the leader. He took the route to his first four individual titles on TOUR. It was not until this year that he won from ahead.