The Players: Xander Schauffele overcomes costly mistake, eyes Wyndham Clark

When Xander Schauffele arrived on the 11th tee Friday at TPC Sawgrass, he was 9-under overall and bogey-free for his first 28 holes of The Players.

That quickly changed.

After finding the fairway off the tee, Schauffele had 263 yards left to the flag stick, with water and a long, winding bunker in his way.

He inexplicably found the water, but the ultimate mistake came afterward.

“It was just a terrible swing,” Schauffele said. “Was a bit uneasy.”

Playing his fourth shot, Schauffele air-mailed the back-left pin as his shot settled in a collection area well below the surface. He failed to get up and down from there, thus recording his first dropped shot of the week: a double-bogey seven.

“Thought I could pile one on there and sort of cut the lead even more, and to go backward on a par-5 is never what we’re trying to do,” Schauffele explained.

Xander Schauffele stands next to caddy Ausin Kaiser during the second round of the 2024 Players Championship.
Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

“Then compounding a terrible wedge shot on top of it.”

But the San Diego State product overcame this costly mistake at the par-5 16th, where Schauffele made an eagle three.

“I was so happy to birdie the next and a bonus to make the eagle on 16,” Schauffele said.

His eagle was a sight to behold.

After bombing a 328-yard drive that split the fairway, Schauffele knocked his approach from 178 out to nine feet. He calmly rolled it in for an eagle, which vaulted him up to 10-under and, ultimately, in a tie for second.

His play on 16 cut Wyndham Clark’s deficit to four, as the reigning U.S. Open champion signed for a 7-under 65 for the second straight day.

“All you’re trying to do is put some pressure on someone,” Schauffele explained.

“[Clark has] been playing incredible golf for quite a few months now, and he’s got the power and precision and is very confident right now. So it’s important to be in that final group to try and put some pressure on him and try and get going.”

Schauffele will play in the final pairing alongside Clark Saturday, despite being tied for second with Nick Taylor, the Canadian who recently won the WM Phoenix Open in a thrilling playoff.

Because Taylor finished his round a few minutes after Schauffele, the American gets the nod into the final group.

But Schauffele almost coughed up that opportunity at the par-4 18th, the most challenging hole at TPC Sawgrass.

Schauffele missed the fairway to the right, with his drive settling down amongst the trees. With water lurking left, he faced a daunting punch shot for his approach.

“It’s scary, for sure. You’re on pine straw; ball’s kind of floating,” Schauffele said of his second on 18.

“The 18th fairway is really firming up. I hit a hybrid [off the tee] like 295 yards, which I didn’t think I could do. That’s why I ended up in the pine straw.”

Xander Schauffele, PGA Tour, The Players Championship

Xander Schauffele plays his tee shot on 18 during the second round of the 2024 Players Championship.
Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

He had 167 yards left and decided to hit a low 6-iron.

“Any ball that’s sort of bounding left or not cutting into the green on 18 is just going to roll and roll and roll into the water,” Schauffele said.

“My caddy Austin [Kaiser] and I talked about hitting it on the 18 logo behind the green with a little fade, and it was as good of a shot as I can hit.”

Schauffele pulled off a miraculous shot, coming to rest 48 feet away on the putting surface. He then two-putted for par, signing for a 3-under 69.

He faces a sizable deficit, but with 36 holes left to play, Schauffele knows it’s still early to anoint a champion.

“It’s a bit early for that, to be honest,” Schauffele said.

“I’ve won from behind, and I think it should be maybe a little bit easier, but for the most part we’re just all here—we try to stick to our own process and get in our own world, and you kind of forget where you’re at when you do that well.”

Indeed, Schauffele forgot about course management on the 11th hole on Friday. But he quickly rediscovered it on the ensuing seven holes. Because of that, he has more than a fighting chance at winning his first Players Championship on Sunday evening.

Jack Milko is a golf staff writer for SB Nation’s Playing Through. Be sure to check out @_PlayingThrough for more golf coverage. You can follow him on Twitter @jack_milko as well.

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