ATLANTA — Masters champion Scotty Scheffler is playing like the No. 1 player in golf and was on the verge of turning the Tour Championship into a victory.
Three holes by Xander Schauffele changed everything going into the weekend at East Lake.
Shuffle made a pair of birdies to open the hole, and then rolled a 4-iron over a bunker and into the right side of the par-5 18th hole for a 5-foot eagle putt.
A birdie-birdie-eagle finish — Schauffele had to settle for pars — gave Schauffele a 7-under 63 as he went from a 6-shot deficit to 2 shots later Friday.
Schauffele is rarely overjoyed, and this was no exception.
“It was nice to get some shots here late, but it’s just a battle for position going into Sunday,” he said. “A lot of golf should be played on this property.
Scheffler isn’t overly concerned. It is rare.
“I’m going to go out there and try to do my thing and play good golf,” Scheffle said. “Obviously Xander’s got a good track record around here, but paying attention to what other guys are doing on the golf course has never been too good for me.”
Scheffler, 66, was 19 years under par. The No. 1 seed at the FedEx Cup started at 10 under — Schaufele started 4 shots behind him as the No. 4 seed — and had plenty of complaints, and they were enough, other than not making every birdie opportunity.
Scheffler played bogey-free. Does the four put the misses by 10 feet or more? He saw those only as opportunities, to remind himself that he was playing the type of golf that saw him rack up an incredible four wins in two months — capped by the Masters — in the spring.
Scheffler, who started the day with a 5-shot lead, made birdie from 5 feet on the par-3 second hole and then hit his driver well on the next hole and had a putt from 5 feet for another birdie. At that point he was 8 shots ahead.
John Rahm was 63 years old and worked his way up close to the top in 13 under. Scheffler was being interviewed when he looked up at the TV screen to see if he had made another bird. He was still 6 shots behind. Defending champion Patrick Cantlai (66) and Sungjae Im (65) are 7 shots back.
Rahm wasn’t sure if he’d put himself back in the mix, but his 63 made it all the more plausible.
“But he’s playing good golf, right? And we’ve got to keep going and play good golf,” Rahm said. “It will take a very strong weekend from me and hopefully not a strong one from Scotty. That’s what we want.”
Looks like Schauffele finally got it. He had 6 shots behind him when he hit his approach to 12 feet behind the back left pin on the 16th and made birdie. From the fairway on the 17th, the chip returned to 4 feet.
The 4-iron was bold and split.
“It was a little more accurate than I wanted it to be, but it had the distance and the shape. I hit it pretty well, so I wasn’t too worried about it,” Schauffele said. “Just trying to make sure it covered that corner and I hit it hard, so I knew it was going to cover. It was definitely a bonus to go 5, 6 feet.”
In the year Since arriving and winning as a PGA Tour rookie in 2017, Schaufele’s record around East Lake has been impressive. The FedEx Cup was different that year, based on reset points for the final event of the year. Justin Thomas won the biggest bonus. As the tournament moved to the stadium start based on seeding, top seed Dustin Johnson had the low score over 72 holes to win the FedEx Cup.
Regardless of the format, Shuffle never shot worse than he did in 22 rounds. He has only two rounds at 70, the other 20 in the 60s.
That’s not on his mind. Nor is the deficit down to 4 shots over the final three holes.
“There’s a lot at stake here, and staying present is going to be the hardest part,” he said.
At stake is an $18 million bonus and, for Schauffele, the chance to finish the year with four PGA Tour titles. Scheffler wants to cap off a great year in golf with a fitting crown. Seven months ago, he was still looking for his first PGA Tour title.
The best score on a soft, sunny day was Max Homma, who had a 62 and was still 10 shots behind.