WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS — Xander Schauffele hoisted up a tee shot to within 3 feet, 3 inches on the 161-yard, par-3 18th on Sunday and while it wasn’t quite the shot heard round the world, it sparked a roar plenty loud enough to be heard on the 17th green.
That’s where the final grouping of Robert Streb and Sebastian Munoz was, and both knew they were in trouble.
Schauffele picked up birdies on No. 16 and No. 18 to sneak past both Munoz and Streb to claim his first PGA Tour victory at the Greenbrier Classic. For much of the day he had trailed Munoz and Streb, who battled back and forth all day one hole behind.
The 23-year-old Schauffele finished with a round of 3-under-par 67, at least two shots better than anyone else in the top five, and it was enough to erase a three-shot deficit. With the win, Schauffele earned a check for $1,278,000, a trip to the Open Championship, PGA Championship and next year’s Masters, while also propelling himself from 94th to 27th in the FedExCup standings.
“It’s slowly sinking in,” Schauffele said. “I had a couple of minutes to myself in the locker room. But it’s been an incredible feeling and honestly, it’s just a dream come true.”
Schauffele burst onto the golf radar at the U.S. Open where he finished tied for fifth in June, the same finish he registered at the Sanderson Farms Championship in October, his best finishes before Sunday.
“The U.S. Open was a huge moment in my career,” Schauffele said. “It was one of the biggest stages, and for me to kind of be calm and collected throughout the week and kind of hang on and tie for fifth was huge for me mentally. It kind of gave me confidence and allowed me to play and win this week.”
The top four finishers — Schauffele, Streb, Munoz and Schauffele’s playing partner Jamie Lovemark — all earned berths into the British Open with their finishes.
It is a nice consolation prize for the other three, but all were in position to claim the win (the potential first for Munoz or Lovemark) down the stretch.
Munoz started the day two shots clear of Streb and had rode a red-hot putter to the lead at the end of the first three rounds.
But the flat stick deserted him in the worst of times, as he needed 35 putts to finish his round of 2-over 72 after not needing more than 28 in any of the other three. Munoz three-putted for bogey on No. 4 and No. 8 as part of a front-nine, 3-over 37 before recovering with birdies on 11 and 12. A misstep on No. 16 was too much to overcome.
“That was totally the difference,” Munoz said. “I never found a rhythm with it. I was taking it back too quick and I released that in the final holes and it just wasn’t soon enough to make a difference.”
Munoz made five bogeys on Sunday after combining for just five over the first 54 holes. He had also played the back nine in 10-under prior to Sunday, but settled for 1-under down the stretch, including that crucial bogey on 16. Before that, Schauffele birdied the hole to tie for the lead.
As heartbreaking as it was for Munoz, it was just as painful for Streb, who had another narrow miss on the Old White TPC after falling in a four-man playoff to Danny Lee in 2015. Streb bounced around all day, too, trading blows with Munoz over the front nine.
Munoz’s bogey on No. 4 tied the two up at 13 under and the two traded two-shot swings on the next two holes with Munoz making birdie and Streb bogey on No. 5 and the opposite happening on No. 6.
Munoz missed a short birdie putt to reclaim the lead on No. 7 and his three-putt bogey on No. 8 knocked him out of the lead for the first time since his first-round 61.
As Schauffele and Lovemark hung around a hole ahead, Streb held Munoz at bay as both birdied the par-5 12th hole. But Streb pulled his tee shot on 13 into the creek, leading to a haulting double bogey.
Streb fought back with a long birdie putt on 14 to match Munoz at 13-under with Schauffele and Lovemark one back at 12 under at the time, but he couldn’t match Schauffele’s hot finish.
“Kind of squandered 16 and 17 a little bit,” Streb said. “Left it short on 16 and had a relatively simple up-and-down on 17 that I didn’t convert. That was kind of frustrating, but Xander hit a great shot on 18 as well.”
Munoz drove his tee shot on 16 just into the left rough and his approach bounced behind the green. That shot led to a 10-foot putt for par that narrowly missed, dropping him one shot back heading to the par-5 17th.
Schauffele yanked an approach left into the gallery, left his chip just short of a ridge in the green and left his resulting uphill birdie putt short, leaving the door open for Streb, who was coming up the 17th fairway at the time.
But Streb missed the green right and then was off on a birdie putt just inside of 12 feet.
When Schauffele grabbed his pitching wedge before his tee shot on No. 18, he knew just where he stood.
“I did know, the tournament was so kind to put a giant leaderboard in front of 17 green,” Schauffele said. “I was trying not to look at it, I saw it, saw that I was T-1, so yeah I knew exactly what I was going into on the last hole.
“I looked at [the pin location tucked into the left-front corner of the green] and I looked at my caddie and I was just like, ‘Man, this is kind of brutal.’ That birdie on 18 is not one that’s going to come along very often, so I was very fortunate to do it.”
As the shot landed on the green with a thud, the crowd surrounding the hole erupted, leaving both Streb and Munoz plenty aware of what had happened as well.
“I heard the reaction,” Munoz said. “I knew I needed to make my putt [on 17, to have a chance], but it was a triple breaker.”
“I heard the racket and you could see it,” Streb said. “You can probably figure it out pretty quick, it’s pretty easy to see over there. I knew I needed to get it up and down [for birdie] on 17 and didn’t pull it off, and then had to aim at it on 18 and didn’t hit the right shot.”
Streb’s shot on 18 indeed went a bit long and just left of the flag, eventually settling into the rough and his chip came up a couple of feet short. His score of 13-under par was good for solo possession of second place.
Lovemark was partly undone by a tee shot on the par-3 15th that landed a couple of paces from the front of the green but instead of hopping forward, got caught in the rough and slipped back down into a bunker. He made bogey there and missed a 12-foot putt for birdie on 17. He and Munoz tied for fourth at 12-under.
Davis Love III entered the day 10 under, four shots back of Munoz in a tie for fifth in his quest to become the oldest player to ever win a PGA Tour event, but limped to a 5-over 75 to slip to a tie for 29th.
Russell Henley and Kelly Kraft, who were tied with Love for fifth coming into Sunday, each shot a 1-under 69 to finish in a fifth-place tie.
Ryan Blaum, who was one of four players to shoot 6-under 64 for low-round honors of the day (Alex Cejka, Phil Mickelson and amateur Joaquin Niemann), joined Tony Finau in a two-way tie for seventh at 10 under.