Viktor Hovland’s six-shot lead heading into the final round of the Tour Championship would seem to suggest a sleepy Sunday awaits in Atlanta. Indeed, most golf fans anticipate the 25-year-old Norwegian will make one more successful loop at East Lake, be crowned the FedEx Cup champion, take home the $18 million bonus and close out a 2022-23 season with back-to-back wins.
But is it really that simple?
Mind you, Hovland has been in such complete control of his golf game the last two weeks—the closing 61 last week at the BMW Championship still fresh in everyone’s mind—it’s hard to envision him struggling to hit enough fairways and greens to allow for any chasers to make a charge. Except there’s one chaser who can’t be ignored, and he’s the one who’ll be playing right beside Hovland on Sunday.
Xander Schauffele’s record at East Lake is almost comical in how consistently brilliant it has become. He played his 27th competitive round on the Donald Ross course in his PGA Tour career on Saturday and when he posted a two-under 68, it marked the 27th straight time he’s signed for a score of par or better. (The social post below is from when Schauffele posted a 64 on Friday.)
Scheffeler’s career scoring average at East Lake is 67.148, and his finishes are as follows beginning with his rookie start in 2017: win, T-7, second, T-2, T-5, fourth.
Stats guru Justin Ray calculated that Schuaffele has made birdie or better 25.5 percent of the holes he’s played at East Lake in his career, making 124 eagles or birdies.
“It’s just you got to sort of plot around the property well and if you can get your putter going, the greens are so pure you feel like you can start rolling anything in,” Schauffele said Friday afternoon after shooting a six-under 64 when asked about his success at East Lake. “So it must just fit my eye. I’m not really sure. But, yeah, I mean, I played pretty well around the property and I’m going to need some more of that magic here on the weekend.”
Schauffele was frustrated by missing what he considered two short putts on the 15th and 18th holes Saturday that could have closed the gap a little. And he knows that Hovland isn’t likely to roll over.
“He’s just playing unbelievable golf. He’s been working really hard,” Schauffele said of Hovland. “I saw him working hard through the playoffs there. I was out late and he was one of the guys I always saw until dark as well. So, no surprise.”
And yet, if somehow Schauffele started off strong on Sunday and got Hovland thinking a little, well that wouldn’t necessarily be a surprise either.
“I know what I need to do,” Schauffele said. “I need to go out and try and put as much pressure on him tomorrow on that front nine as I can and hope for the best.”