LAS VEGAS – A dejected Xander Schauffele was searching for a positive after a 2-over 74 third round had just dropped him from his three-shot 36-hole lead to being three behind at THE CJ CUP @ SHADOW CREEK. Then it dawned on him. “It’s all part of my master plan. Just had to get behind here, back in a comfortable place and looking forward to tomorrow,” he said wryly.
Schauffele was of course being facetious. But not completely. All four of his PGA TOUR wins have come when he was trailing through 36 holes. On the three occasions he’s led through 54 holes, he’s come up short. So the fact Russell Henley shot a 5-under 67 right in front of him to set a cushion on the leaderboard is one he’s annoyed about, but not one he thinks is insurmountable.
In his first win, the 2017 Military Tribute at the Greenbrier, he started three back on Sunday. Later that season he was two behind at the same point before winning the TOUR Championship.
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In the 2018-19 season, he won the World Golf Championships – HSBC Champions after being three back with a round to play and his win at the Sentry Tournament of Champions that season came from five shots in arrears. Schauffele loves the chase. It looks in his focus and intensity. With his big lead Saturday, he was without both.
“I was trying to figure out what was worse… the pace of play or my quality of golf. It was kind of a tie today,” Schauffele lamented. “It was just a lot of bad breaks kind of. Not to be like a sour person, but just one of those days.”
“But today was my bad day for the week, got it out of the way before Sunday, which is nice. I guess I’m in a familiar place being three back now.”
Schauffele pointed out his play was proof someone can be run down at Shadow Creek and with a par-5, par-3, par-5 finishing stretch “you never know what can happen.”
Henley sits 15 under and is three ahead of Schauffele, Lanto Griffin (66), Talor Gooch (69) and Jason Kokrak (68). The latter two have never won on TOUR making their Sunday one to get after while Griffin won the Houston Open last season. He’s also learned from World Golf Hall of Fame member and 34-time TOUR winner Vijay Singh whom he spent the quarantine part of 2020 with.
“His work ethic, love for the game, all that kind of rubbed off on me for sure. I’ve never seen anybody work harder than him and he’s 57. So it was pretty inspiring not even so much asking him questions, but just watching how he approaches the game and practicing and working out,” Griffin said.
That three‑month stretch during the quarantine definitely was eye opening for me. Just confidence‑wise. It took me seven years to get out here and hearing a Hall of Famer tell you how good you are and believe in you, that meant a lot.”
Lined up behind on the leaderboard are some familiar names. Names that might spark some nerves in the contenders should they get on a run.
Jason Day (66), Justin Thomas (68) and Tyrrell Hatton (73) are 10 under. Day is a 12-time TOUR winner, Thomas is a former FedExCup champion and has won THE CJ CUP twice in the last three years. Hatton is coming off victory in the European Tour’s flagship BMW PGA Championship last week.
“I birdied 18, I have got a chance, I can shoot a low one tomorrow,” Thomas forewarned.
“I’ve played the last three holes seven under the first three days so I like my chances if I can get there within range of the lead,” Day said. “I’ve got nothing to lose really. Like playing in Vegas with house money. Play aggressive but smart and some putts roll in and you’ve got a chance.”
One shot further back at 9 under is recent PGA Championship winner Collin Morikawa while Rory McIlroy, Bubba Watson and Hideki Matsuyama have not given up hope making a run from seven shots adrift. Shadow Creek can bring both low and high numbers into play.
“I would need to go out and maybe shoot 64 or better tomorrow and see where that leaves me,” McIlroy said. “But it was a good round today, I played better. I did what I wanted to do and that’s all I can ask for.”
There might be chasers ready for the hunt but Henley though has been to this rodeo before. He’s a three-time winner and on the two times he’s led through three rounds he won once and was runner up the other. He’s not been prone to a pressure induced meltdown. He won in his rookie season of 2013 and has been in the FedExCup Playoffs every season since. Even the ones he said were slumps.
“Anybody can come at me. You can go low out here, the greens are great and it’s gettable, but you’ve got to play well to do that. You’ve got to do everything well. I’ve got to just keep my head down and play a good round for me,” Henley said of Sunday where he plans to keep his foot down on the gas pedal.
“Houston, the last win I had, I felt like I was just playing solid the whole day and went out and attacked the course and I feel like that’s what you have to do out here. It’s pretty rare where you can just go out and just try to make a par on every hole. You have to be aggressive and take your chances when you can.”
Source: PGA tour