2018 WGC-HSBC Champions grades: Xander Schauffele gets third win of young career

After Tony Finau swiped the final spot on the 2018 United States Ryder Cup team, Xander Schauffele turned it around on Finau and took the 2018 WGC-HSBC Champions from him in the final round. Schauffele notched the third win of his young career on Sunday by shooting a round-of-the-day 68 in conditions that produced just three rounds in the 60s and winning in a playoff.

Finau didn’t play poorly himself with a 71 in Round 4, but Schauffele birdied the final two holes to knot things up before disposing of Finau’s dreams of a first monster win with a birdie on the first playoff hole following a Finau drive into a fairway bunker. 

“Tony got a bad break in a bunker, honestly,” said Schauffele. “His ball looked like it should have splashed back in, and it sort of trickled back … in his own pitchmark. Looking at that, I knew just he’s going to splash it out. He’s so long, he’s going to have a short iron in after he splashed it out. So I knew that I still needed to pull off a shot and hit the green.”

The shot Schauffele on the par-5 18th was a great one and it led to a birdie he could have made left-handed with his eyes closed. That’s a low-stress way to win a professional golf tournament, even though Finau made a pretty good roll at birdie to extend the playoff.

“It was a hard-fought match, and it’s a bummer, since Tony and I get along really well,” added Schauffele. “I know he’s going to win a lot soon, obviously, because he’s playing so well. Regardless, I think we both had a lot of fun.”

“Xander played incredible golf today,” confirmed Finau. “It was playing tough out there. He posted a number and made birdie on a playoff hole when it counted. Hats off him to. He played nicely today and deserved to win.”

The victory for Schauffele is his third in the last eighteen months, and it crescendoed. After a solid 66-71 start, he shot in the 60s twice on the weekend when only 11 total players did so (Schauffele represented two of them). The victory follows 2017 titles at Greensboro and the Tour Championship.

“People can say whatever they want, but you know, my team and I, we know that we’re doing the right things, and it feels good to know that,” said Schauffele. “It just feels good to win again. Those two wins were pretty close in my rookie year ,and I didn’t really know what I was doing. Not that I had a clue of what I was doing today, but it’s a lot of fun. You practice, you play hard, and you do everything that you can to get in this position and it honestly is a great feeling to pull it off.” Grade: A+

Here are the rest of our grades for the 2018 WGC-HSBC Champions.

Tony Finau (2nd): For Finau, it’s his fourth runner-up finish in the last two years. His fourth! As Schauffele noted, Finau should (and probably will) win a lot and very soon. As Schauffele built and built his tournament, Finau started strong on the first day and faded a little on the weekend. His score got worse each day, but he’d done enough in the first two days to give himself a great chance at his first non-opposite field event win. I remain intrigued and impressed. Grade: A

Justin Rose (3rd): Rose finished four back, but he played in the final group on Sunday and was one of only three guys who had a real shot to win the golf tournament. It’s his his fifth straight top-eight finish, and he has been absolutely automatic going back to the beginning of the fall of 2017. For the Englishman, its on to the Race to Dubai over the next few weeks (he’s currently 10th there) as he tries back up his FedEx Cup win with the Race to Dubai double like his buddy Henrik Stenson was able to pull off back in 2013.

“Obviously I have events I’ve got to defend between this week … two left Turkey and Indonesia,” said Rose. “I’ve never [successfully] defended a tournament before, so that’s the goal for this run is to defend one of them.” Grade: A

Brooks Koepka (T16): Only Schauffele fired a better round than Koepka on Sunday as the new world No. 1 shot a 3-under 69 to close out his first event as the top-ranked player in the world. It probably didn’t go exactly as he would have liked, but it was a solid showing for his first time with everybody chasing him.

“I don’t think there’s many positives and I don’t think there’s many negatives,” said Koepka of his week. “It’s just kind of a blah week. I just didn’t make anything. Struck it well. Just didn’t hit anything close. Controlled the ball flight. Chipped it decent. Sometimes you’re going to have those weeks where you just kind of ho-hum it, and you just kind of finish middle of the pack.” Grade: B

Thomas Pieters (T18): I always enjoy the Thomas Pieters Experience, and we got a roller coaster this weekend. Pieters shot a round-of-the-tournament 64 in Round 2, but every other round was 74 or worse. Of course he also made an ace on Sunday. Like I said, the full Thomas Pieters Experience. Grade: B-

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