NORTH BERWICK – Xander Schauffele played all the right bounces and made all the key putts until the final two holes Saturday in the Scottish Open and then felt as though he had to settle for a two-shot lead.
Right when he was starting to pull away from the field, Schauffele closed with a pair of bogeys at The Renaissance Club that made it difficult to appreciate an otherwise stellar round. He matched the low score of the windy day with a 4-under 66.
And then he headed straight to the range.
“I had pretty much everything going,” Schauffele said. “I was judging the bounces well and making the putts I needed to and getting up-and-down when I was missing the green. Six birdies through 16, no complaints. And a tough finish.”
Schauffele was at 7-under 203, two ahead of Rafa Cabrera Bello of Spain, who had a 67 and boosted his hopes of getting one of three spots into the British Open next week at St. Andrews.
Jordan Spieth had two eagles on the back nine, one of them with a lob wedge from just over 100 yards on the 15th hole, and had a 66 that put him right in the mix. Spieth was three shots behind in a group that included fellow Texan Ryan Palmer.
Cameron Tringale has been sliding since he opened with a 61 in relatively benign conditions along the Firth of Forth. He went from a three-shot lead to a five-shot deficit. Tringale had an eagle on the third hole and nothing but pars and bogeys the rest of the way for a 74.
Schauffele was dogged for the longest time for not having a PGA Tour title of his own since the start of 2019. He did have an Olympic gold medal from Tokyo last summer, and he partnered with Patrick Cantlay to win the PGA Tour's team event in New Orleans.
Now the 28-year-old Californian might be hitting his stride. He is coming off a victory two weeks ago at the Travelers Championship, with one eye toward the final major of the year on the Old Course at St. Andrews.
“You see players do it all the time. You get in the good swing of things, start to get comfortable seeing certain shots and seeing certain putts go in,” Schauffele said. “Players always have good stretches and I'm trying to make this one of my best.”
He was ahead by as many as four shots until he tugged his tee shot on the par-3 17th and it rolled down a ridge and off the green. On the tough closing hole into the wind, he pulled his tee shot into the rough, went behind a pair of bunkers and missed a 10-foot par putt.
Schauffele still found some perspective. He thought he was in big trouble on the 11th hole when his tee shot sailed well to the right toward knee-high native grass. Fearing it might be lost, he hit another one. The original shot was found and he wound up making birdie.
“I hit a provisional tee ball on 11 and made birdie. That doesn’t happen too often,” he said.
Cabrera Bello, the former Ryder Cup player from Spain who has fallen to No. 159 in the world, is well aware that three players from the top 10 not already exempt for the British Open will earn a trip to St. Andrews. He's close enough to Schauffele to think about winning, something he had done only once in the last five years.
Cabrera Bello began the back nine eagle-birdie-birdie-birdie that turned his fortunes and put him in the final group Sunday.
Palmer is also in position to contend and at least get to St. Andrews. It was worth him flying over to Scotland to try to get in the British Open.
“Has not been a great year, but I knew coming in here if I played well and gave myself a chance I could possibly get one of those three spots,” Palmer said. “So I’ve done that. I’m here. And you know, I’m going to go out and try to win this golf tournament.”
It's crowded at the top if Schauffele falters. Spieth was joined at 4-under 206 by Palmer and Jordan Smith of England, with U.S. Open champion Matt Fitzpatrick in the group five behind.
As for the three British Open spots, Rickie Fowler remained in range after a wild finish. He erased a double bogey on the 14th hole by going birdie-eagle, only to bogey the last two. That gave him a 71. He was six shots behind.
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