Xander Schauffele is moving closer to a major championship, and with head-spinning speed, but that provided little solace to him Sunday. Schauffele was dealing with the disappointment of a runner-up finish to Francesco Molinari in the British Open at Carnoustie.
Despite having a share of the lead down the stretch, Schauffele went bogey-par in the final two holes to Molinari’s par-birdie, and that proved the two-stroke difference. Schauffele finished tied with Justin Rose, Rory McIlroy and Kevin Kisner.
“A bit of a disappointment,” said Schauffele, who shot rounds of 71, 66, 67 and 74. “Obviously, when you don’t win, you’re disappointed. Hats off to Francesco. Looked up on 17 and saw that he got to minus-eight, which is just incredible golf and an incredible finish.”
Strong performances are becoming the norm for Schauffele, who was born in La Jolla, attended San Diego State and was selected 2017 rookie of the year on the PGA Tour after two wins and several other impressive showings. In majors, the 24-year-old has been unflappable, tying for 20th at the British Open last year and fifth at the U.S. Open. Last month he returned to the U.S. Open and tied for sixth.
Schauffele won $694,250 for his second-place finish Sunday, with Molinari winning $1,890,000. At one point Schauffele was one of six players locked in a first-place tie.
“Chaotic is probably the best way to put it,” said Schauffele, who was paired with Jordan Spieth as two of the three co-leaders. “Jordan and I, we got off to a nice, sort of easygoing start, had a couple of birdie looks. And then whatever happened, happened, where we were in the strangest spots possible on the golf course, where we didn’t think we’d be.
Much of the focus was on the return to relevance of Tiger Woods, who last won a major when the U.S. Open was at Torrey Pines in 2008. Schauffele was there in the gallery, a 14-year-old fan.
“I stood by the tree that’s fallen at Torrey Pines, and when Tiger made the putt on 18 to get into the playoff with Rocco [Mediate],” he said, “it was a little bit louder probably when he did that than today was. I think the winds kind of took over the crowds here.”
Then, a confession.
“I don’t like watching golf too much,” Schauffele said. “Golf’s not as exciting as other sports. But at that moment on the 18th green, with the arena, with the people around [Woods], him having to make that 12-footer on crappy poa annua greens, and the roar and the celebration, is probably as exciting as you can make golf. I was happy to be there and share the moment.”
Well, it could be more exciting for Schauffele. But that’s to come.
Spieth, the tournament’s defending champion, glanced up at the scoreboard near the midway point of his final round and saw a blast from the past: Woods holding a Sunday lead at a major.
That could rattle anybody, considering how dominant Woods was at one time. But caddie Michael Greller helped keep Spieth calm.
“He’s like, ‘He hasn’t been in this position in 10 years, and you’ve been here how many times in the last three years?’ He was, like, throwing it back at me. I was like, I feel fine. It’s OK. This is what you dream about anyway.”
He’s just dad
Despite briefly leading the tournament, Woods wound up finishing in a tie for sixth. He was first by a mile in the eyes of his daughter, Sam, 11, and son, Charlie, 9, who smothered him in bear hugs after his round.
“I told them I tried, and I said, ‘Hopefully you’re proud of your pops for trying as hard as I did,’ ” he said. “They gave me some — it’s pretty emotional because they gave me some pretty significant hugs there and squeezed. I know that they know how much this championship means to me and how much it feels good to be back playing again. To me, it’s just so special to have them aware because I’ve won a lot of golf tournaments in my career, but they don’t remember any of them.
“So for them to understand what I was doing early in my career — the only thing they’ve seen is my struggles and the pain I was going through. Now they just want to go play soccer with me. So that’s — man, it’s just such a great feeling.”
Follow Sam Farmer on Twitter @LATimesfarmer