Tour Championship: Xander Schauffele’s burst cuts into Scottie Scheffler’s lead

AP photo by John Bazemore / Xander Schauffele lines up a putt on the 18th green at East Lake Golf Club during the second round of the Tour Championship on Friday in Atlanta.

ATLANTA — Scottie Scheffler is performing every bit like the No. 1 golfer in the world, and the Masters champion was on the verge of turning the Tour Championship into a rout.

Three holes by Xander Schauffele changed everything going into the weekend at East Lake.

Schauffele holed a pair of birdie putts, then drilled a 4-iron shot just over the bunker and right by the hole on the par-5 18th before rolling in a five-foot putt for eagle.

That fantastic finish as Scheffler settled for pars on the final three holes Friday gave Schauffele a 7-under-par 63 in the second round, taking him from a six-shot deficit to two strokes behind.

Schauffele rarely gets overly excited. This was no exception.

"It was nice to pick up some shots late here, but it's just a positioning battle going into Sunday," he said. "There's a lot of golf to be played on this property.

Scheffler wasn't overly concerned. He rarely is.

"I'm just going to go out there and do my thing and try and play good golf," he said. "Xander obviously has a great track record around here, but paying attention to what other guys do on the golf course has never served me too well."

Scheffler, who shot a 66, was at 19 under overall. He started the event Thursday at 10 under as the No. 1 seed in the FedEx Cup standings — Schauffele started four shots behind as the No. 4 seed — and had few complaints except for not making every birdie chance, and they were ample.

Scheffler did not make a bogey. The four putts from 10 feet or closer that he missed? He saw those only as opportunities, a reminder that he was playing the kind of golf that carried him to an amazing stretch of four wins in two months this past spring.

After starting the day with a five-shot lead, Scheffler made birdies from five feet on the par-3 second hole and then pounded his driver on the next hole, a shot so perfectly positioned he had a flip wedge into five feet for another birdie. At that point, he was ahead by eight shots.

Jon Rahm also had a 63 and worked his way closer to the top at 13 under. He was being interviewed when he looked up at a TV screen to see if Scheffler had made another birdie.

He still was six shots behind. Reigning tournament champion Patrick Cantlay (66) and Sungjae Im (65) were seven back.

Rahm wasn't sure if he put himself in the mix, but his 63 made it feel more reasonable when it comes to catching Scheffler.

"But he's playing good golf, right? And we're going to have to keep on going and play good golf as well," Rahm said. "It's going to take a really strong weekend from me and hopefully not a strong one from Scottie. That's kind of what we're looking for."

Schauffele seemed to find that at the end. He was six behind when he hit his approach to 12 feet behind a back left pin on the 16th and made the birdie. From the fairway on the 17th, his wedge spun back to four feet. The 4-iron move was bold and paid off.

"It was a little right of where I wanted, but it had the distance and the shape. I hit it really well, so I wasn't very worried about it," Schauffele said. "Just trying to make sure to cover that corner, and I hit it solid so I knew it was going to cover. For it to go to five, six feet was definitely a bonus."

Schauffele's record around East Lake is astounding since he first arrived in 2017 as a PGA Tour rookie and won the tournament. The FedEx Cup format was different that year, based on points that were reset for the final event of the year. Justin Thomas won the big bonus.

When it moved to the staggered start based on seedings, he had the low score over 72 holes when top-seeded Dustin Johnson won the FedEx Cup.

No matter the format, Schauffele has never shot worse than par in 22 rounds at the Atlanta course. He has only two rounds at 70, with the other 20 in the 60s.

That's not on his mind. Neither is the deficit he shrunk to four shots over the final three holes.

"There's a lot at stake here, and staying present is going to be the hardest thing," he said.

At stake is the $18 million bonus and a chance to end the year with four PGA Tour wins. Scheffler wants to end the best year in golf with a fitting crown. Seven months ago, he still was looking for his first PGA Tour win.

The best score after two soft, sunny days belonged to Max Homa, who had a 62 and still was 10 shots behind.