Shanghai, China: American Xander Schauffele claimed the biggest title of his short career after coming through to beat Tony Finau at the first hole of a sudden-death play-off at the WGC-HSBC Champions at Sheshan International.
Schauffele, who had a best-of-the-day round of 68 in regulation play, claimed victory at the par-five 18th with a birdie his countryman was unable to match. It was his first victory since winning twice in his rookie year on the PGA Tour in 2017 and it secured him a first prize of US$1.7 million and the coveted Old Tom Morris Trophy.
With two holes to play, Schauffele trailed Finau by one stroke and knew that he had to make his move. A stupendous birdie at the 17th, the toughest of par-threes, brought him level with Finau on 13-under-par. When both players proceeded to birdie the last, they were taken back down the 18th to do battle once more.
By then, they had seen off the challenge of Justin Rose, who was bidding to become the first player since Tiger Woods in 2007 to defend a WGC title.
Playing in the final group, Rose got to within one stroke of the lead with a birdie at the seventh, but he dropped shots at the ninth and 10th and seemed to be playing catch-up from thereon in.
A win would have taken the Englishman back to the top of the world rankings, but in the end he had to settle for third place after a disappointing 72 that left him four strokes in arrears.
As might have been expected, Finau was graciousness personified in defeat. He would have been bitterly disappointed to lose after playing some of the best golf of his career, but he was quick to congratulate his young rival on his victory. He started the day with a lead of three strokes over Schauffele, who had just celebrated his 25th birthday, Rose and Patrick Reed and finished it as one of only a handful of players with four rounds under par.
“It definitely feels like I let one get away, but Xander played incredible golf today,” Finau said. “He posted a number out there and made birdie on a play-off hole when it counted. Hats off to him. He played nicely today and deserved to win.”
Schauffele, whose mother hails from Chinese Taipei, had his family with him for the week, something he credited with helping him to settle into his routine. “It feels like I’m at home because everyone understands what she’s asking, so she takes a load off me,” he said with a smile. He certainly looked at home as the pressure mounted on the final day. He also took the time to sympathise with Finau, who found a fairway bunker with his tee shot in the play-off only for his ball to roll backwards and into its pitch mark, which meant he could only lay up short of the green with his second shot.
“Tony got a bad break in the bunker,” Schauffele said. “I knew I still needed to pull off a shot (from the middle of the fairway) and hit the green.” Comfortably on in two, he rolled his eagle putt to within two inches of the hole and victory was assured.
Much had been expected of Reed and Tommy Fleetwood at the start of the day, but neither of them lived up to their final-round billing. Victory for either player would have taken them above Francesco Molinari at the top of the standings for the European Tour’s Race to Dubai, but they rarely threatened the lead. There is still all to play for in the final three events of the season.
Reed, who had opened the tournament with a masterful round of 64, trailed Finau by three strokes when he teed off but finished a distant nine strokes in arrears after a lacklustre 77. Fleetwood finished in a tie for seventh place with Reed after a 75.
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