Schauffele shuffles to the BMW lead

Writing from Newtown Square, Pennsylvania

Friday, September 7, 2018

Ben Franklin, who first hung his shingle in downtown Philadelphia some 290 years ago, was the go-to man for wise sayings. One was “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.”

If you told the bespectacled patriot, inventor and publisher that people would be playing golf outside of town for $9 million some day, he’d have told you to go fly a kite, preferably in a thunderstorm. But Xander Schauffele followed his advice on Friday. Up early thanks to a 7 a.m. tee time to avoid oncoming storms, Schauffele added a 6-under-par 64 to his opening 63 and raced into the lead in the BMW Championship at Aronimink Golf Club.

At 13-under 127 at the halfway point of this Birdie Bash, Schauffele leads 2011 winner Justin Rose by two strokes and the quartet of Rickie Fowler, Keegan Bradley, Hideki Matsuyama and Alex Noren by three, with a host of notables lurking.

Among the lurkers are Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods, the first round co-leaders. McIlroy could only muster a 1-under 69 for a tie for seventh at 9-under 131 on Friday, while Woods, a five time-winner of this carnival, four times under the Western Open title, settled for par 70 and is tied for 12th at 8-under 132 thanks to bogeys on the last two holes. At five back, he’s well within range, but almost anyone could put together two hot rounds and win.

Rose’s bogey-free 7-under 63 only tied for the third-best round of the day. Tommy Fleetwood and Kevin Na tied the course record with 8-under 62s, and are five and six strokes back, respectively, which is an indicator of how pliable Aronimink has been. Playing to greens softened by Thursday night’s downpour, the field averaged 67.333 strokes, the lowest-scoring round in Western Open / BMW Championship history by two-thirds of a stroke.

Aside from sinking a 58 foot, 9 inch birdie putt on the par-4 13th, Rose’s best hole might have been the 15th, where he made a par save from a greenside bunker. A birdie on the par-5 16th followed for the winner of the U.S. Open eight miles away at Merion five years ago. He’s since become a member there, and has a clue as to why he performs well here.

“Cheese steaks, I guess,” Rose quipped. “The crowd latched onto it for sure. Nice when they’re reminding you all the time that it’s your town as well.”

Maybe he doesn’t know the Super Bowl champion Eagles were booed at halftime Thursday night, and Santa Claus was booed at an Eagles game decades back.

Schauffele did last week what Woods did this week, switching putters to get the ball in the hole more quickly. It’s paid off. He’s made 242 feet of putts this week, including 131 feet, or an average of 7 feet 3 inches, on Friday. His 127 score is the second-lowest on the PGA Tour after 36 holes this season.

He had been using an Odyssey Works Versa Big-T No. 5, and for some time.

“I’m pretty loyal to my gamer,” Schauffele said. “I don’t like to switch too much.”

But something wasn’t happening – long putts weren’t falling. So he went to an Odyssey World Red No. 7 CH at TPC Boston. He opened with a pair of 68s there and finished tied for 49th, so decided to stick with the new wand.

The move is paying off. Schauffele needed only 25 putts to negotiate 18 greens on Thursday and just 29 on Friday. He’s first in Strokes Gained Putting, a PGA Tour statistic that measures performance against the rest of the field, through 36 holes on Aronimink’s undulating putting surfaces.

“It’s just a new look,” Schauffele said. “We call (the new putter) the Fang. It’s a much different look.”

The 42-footer he holed for birdie on the par-4 11th hole and 13th in 28 going back to his second hole on Thursday was the highlight of the round. But the winner of last year;s Tour Championship appeared stoic about it.

“I’m excited but I feel like I’m on sort of a mission here,” Schauffele said. “I have lots to prove to myself. I just want to win and handle my business. I feel like I haven’t been doing that as well, just on the weekends. I always thought I was rather a clutch player coming down the stretch, and this year has said otherwise. I’m trying to prove it to myself again.”

He might prove it to someone else if he wins the BMW. American Ryder Cup captain Jim Furyk has one pick left for the team he’ll guide in Paris at the end of the month, and while even Schauffele thinks Tony Finau is the favorite, a victory at Aronimink could make a difference.

“I feel I have to win,” Schauffele said. “Tony’s the guy right now, and he’s not making it easy.”

Finau also shot 64 on Friday and is at 8-under 132. The final 36 holes may come down to a battle for the last Ryder Cup berth along with the right to lift the J.K. Wadley Trophy, earn the $1.62 million the winner gets from the $9 million purse, and determining the 30 qualifiers for next week’s Tour Championship.

That’s a lot to think about. Schauffele prefers not to. He just wants his weekday play to carry over to the weekend.

“My Sunday scoring average (72.39) is pretty bad, to be completely honest here,” Schauffele said. “It’s very poor and my Saturday (70.42) isn’t very good as well. I’ve been failing a lot, so it would be nice to turn the switch and kind of clutch up.”

Entering this week, his Thursday average was 69.92, and his Friday average was 70.58. He’s already 13.5 strokes ahead of his season average.

Finau, meanwhile, had seven birdies offset by a bogey in his tour.

“I’ve been playing good golf all year and I don’t need to put more pressure on myself than what’s already there,” Finau said. “It’s a lot easier to say than to do.

“From what I’ve learned in this game, you can’t look ahead. So the possibilities are cool – the potential of what could happen – but nothing good comes from thinking too far ahead. I’ve got a couple rounds in front of me, 36 holes to try and win this tournament. And winning takes care of everything.”

Ben Franklin said that too, didn’t he?

Woods backs Kaepernick and Nike

A longtime Nike endorser – today for clothing, the company having left the golf equipment field two years ago – Tiger Woods gave his approval to the “sacrifice everything” commercial Nike aired featuring Colin Kaepernick on Thursday night’s NFL telecast.

“I think Nike is trying to get out ahead of it and trying to do something special, and I think they’ve done that,” Woods sad after his round. “It’s a beautiful spot and pretty powerful people in the spot.

“They did not tell me it was coming. When corporate does things that are outside of golf and outside of my realm, that’s what they do.”

Around Aronimink

Phil Mickelson will be a dew-sweeper on Saturday morning, off by himself at 8:35 a.m. Eastern. That’s what happens when you score 72-73 for 5-over 145 and are alone in last in a 69-player field. The final twosome of Schauffele and Rose start at 2 p.m. Eastern, 1 p.m. Central. ... Only six of the 69 players are over par. The 2-over 72s of Mickelson and Brian Harman were the high scores on Friday. ... NBC is on the air Saturday from 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Central, with Golf Channel taking the rest of the round as NBC covers Ball State-Notre Dame football. ...

Friday was an interesting day from a fan perspective. The switch in tee times to a 7 a.m. start to beat bad weather meant action started about four hours earlier than planned. That triggered an early influx of fans, and a second wave of those arriving at the original hour, either because they didn’t know of the change or couldn’t make it that early on a weekday. Regardless, there was a mob around Woods, Fowler and Spieth, who started at 8:06 a.m. The gallery may have totaled about 30,000 by day’s end, which was early. ... Corporate sales were boffo for the first visit of the WGA to Philadelphia. The Philadelphia Business Journal reported more than 150 corporate sponsors besides title sponsor BMW, most of them based in the greater Philadelphia region. All proceeds benefit the Philly-based Platt Scholarship wing of the Evans Scholars in an effort to grow the number of scholars attending Penn State and building an Evans Scholar House in State College. ... 

The word spreading about Woods’ hot start before Golf Channel picked up coverage on Thursday contributed to a .60 overnight rating, the highest-rated first round telecast of a playoff tournament in the last five years. The rating was up 67 percent from last year’s opening round.

Tim Cronin

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