NORTH BERWICK, Scotland (AP)Xander Schauffele keeps making up for lost time.
Winless for more than two years, Schauffele picked up his fourth win in the last 12 months Sunday when he overcame a rough patch in the middle of his round with two key birdies and a par save for an even-par 70 to win the Scottish Open.
Next up is another test on Scottish soil, this one the purest of all, the British Open at St. Andrews. Schauffele heads to the home of golf as among the hottest players in the world.
It was the first time the PGA Tour co-sanctioned a European tour event.
”It’s just an honor to win the first one,” said Schauffele, who now has seven career titles on the PGA Tour.
His 8-foot par save on the par-3 17th at The Renaissance Club gave him a two-shot lead, and the 28-year-old from San Diego played it smartly from there. He took iron off the 18th tee to avoid trouble and wound up missing an 8-foot par that only affected the margin.
Schauffele finished at 7-under 273, one shot ahead of Kurt Kitayama (66).
Kitayama had a one-shot lead on the back nine and was still tied until missing a 6-foot par putt on the 17th hole and then having to wait to see if his score would be enough.
The consolation for Kitayama was earning of three spots in the field at the British Open, his third straight time at golf’s oldest championship. The other two spots went to Brandon Wu and Jamie Donaldson, who tied for sixth.
So many others had a chance to earn a spot at St. Andrews. Rickie Fowler has played every British Open since 2010 and came into the final round of the Scottish Open within range. But he closed with a 75 and was headed back home across the Atlantic.
Ryan Palmer also was in position until playing the back nine with two bogeys and no birdies and missing out by two shots. It was tougher for Alex Smalley, who only needed a par on the 18th to earn a spot. He made bogey.
It wasn’t easy for Schauffele, either.
He started the final round with a two-shot lead and birdied the opening two holes. He was four shots ahead after five holes. And when he reached the back nine, he was one shot behind.
”This was stressful,” Schauffele said. ”I’m not going to put makeup on the pig here. It was a very average day, probably my worst stuff this week. You can’t get ahead of yourself in links golf. I was ahead, behind, ahead, behind. I just kept my head down.”
It began to turn in his favor when Schauffele made a 15-foot birdie putt on the 14th hole to reclaim the lead, and then reached the par-5 16th in two to set up a two-putt birdie that extended his lead to two shots. Equally important was the 17th, when he putted from behind the green some 8 feet by the hole and made it for par to keep his cushion.
Schauffele now has won two straight PGA Tour starts – his win in the J.P. McManus Pro-Am in Ireland at the start of the week doesn’t count – going into the final major of the year. The last player to win twice in a row before a major was Dustin Johnson in 2016, and then he tied for ninth in the British Open at Royal Troon.
He had gone more than three years without a win, dating to the Sentry Tournament of Champions at Kapalua to start 2019, and it was gnawing at him.
But then Schauffele won Olympic gold in the Tokyo Olympics last summer. He teamed with Patrick Cantlay to win the Zurich Classic of New Orleans in late April, and now he has added two more of his own. That takes him to No. 5 in the world.
”Just to get over the hump, honestly, it was big,” he said of his first PGA Tour win this year in New Orleans. ”It definitely was a kick-starter for me, as you can tell.”
Joohyung Kim, the 20-year-old South Korean, also had a brief share of the lead with a brilliant play on the 17th in which his ball rolled off the back slope to 5 feet for birdie. But he took bogey on the 18th and shot 67 to finish third. He moved to No. 39, his first time in the top 50.
Jordan Spieth had his share of adventures again.
He was within one shot of the lead until pulling his tee shot on the 14th into high grass, hacking out long and making double bogey, and then taking bogey on the 15th with a wedge in his hand from the fairway. Spieth had two birdies, three bogeys and a double bogey on the back nine and shot 72 to tie for 10th.
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