PGA Championship

Schauffele (68) continues his climb, sits halfway up the mountain

May 17, 2024


Jeff Babineau

May 17, 2024

By Jeff Babineau, PGA of America Pool Reporter

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Xander Schauffele likes to compare the chase to land his first major championship to a man climbing a mountain. At the 106th PGA Championship, so far, so good for Schauffele, who on Friday put together a tidy, 3-under 68 to go along with the PGA Championship-record 62 he shot to open the tournament a day earlier.

Mind your corks, though. There is nothing to celebrate quite yet. Saturday morning, Schauffele may be in the lead – at 12-under 130, he tied the 36-hole PGA Championship record in relation to par (Brooks Koepka, 2019) and has a one-shot cushion over Collin Morikawa (66). But he still is only halfway up his mountain.

“I feel like I played pretty close to the same,” said Schauffele, 30, a seven-time winner on the PGA Tour. “I wasn’t able to hit my irons as close with mud on the ball. I wasn’t able to play as aggressively as I’d like. I think I played pretty well.”

The wind was down, and once the Kentucky late-morning and mid-day showers subsided early in the afternoon, conditions were good for scoring for a second consecutive day. Schauffele, who didn’t hit a shot until almost 4 in the afternoon – the round started with an 80-minute delay – got out fast, making birdies on four of his first 10 holes to stretch his lead.

At the par-3 11th, he made his first (and only) bogey of the tournament. From there, he finished with seven consecutive pars. Steady Eddie. He drove it nicely, and said the biggest challenge to his day was the amount of mud his ball would pick up in the wet zoysia fairways. On 18, mud on his ball caused his second shot to hook wildly to the left, though he managed to make a par.

“We're pro golfers,” Schauffele said, smiling wryly, “we're not professional mud readers.”

There is an interesting cast pursuing Schauffele. Front and center would be Scottie Scheffler, the World No. 1, who experienced a day he will not soon forget.

A chaotic misunderstanding that happened as Scheffler went to turn into the course in the day’s early, dark and rainy hours escalated into Scheffler being arrested, detained and later charged by Louisville police. His status to play was very much in question. He would arrive to the course less than an hour before his round, but that was hardly his biggest thing on his mind.

Scheffler was far more concerned about the family of John Mills, a local vendor who was killed early Friday morning crossing a busy street on his way to work the tournament.

“First of all, my sympathies go out to the family of Mr. Mills,” Scheffler said to open his somber post-round news conference with the media. “I can’t imagine what they’re going through this morning. My heart ... I feel for them. I’m sorry.”

Scheffler, 27, a two-time Masters winner and a four-time champion already in 2024, often is lauded for his amazing ability to focus in on his golf. Never has he faced a bigger test. With bolstered support and love shown from the Louisville galleries, Scheffler shot 5-under 66. He will head into the weekend very much in the mix at 9-under 133, three behind Schauffele, his Ryder Cup teammate.

Morikawa trails by one after one of the low rounds of the day. Sahith Theegala sits two shots back after a 67. Four are tied for fourth: Scheffler, Thomas Detry (67), Mark Hubbard (68) and former U.S. Open champion Bryson DeChambeau (65).

Schauffele takes a 36-hole lead into a tournament for a second consecutive week, having done so at last week’s Wells Fargo Championship in Charlotte. There, Rory McIlroy shot 65 on Sunday and blitzed him. Likewise, at The Players, Schauffele had a 54-hole lead, but it was Scheffler who shot 64 to come from behind and win for a second consecutive year.

Schauffele continues to tell himself to stay present, keep in the moment, keep playing great golf, and good things will happen. So he wasn’t about to get ahead of himself on a Friday evening.

“It's just 36 holes,” Schauffele said. “It's a really good start to a tournament. I'm playing some really nice golf. That's kind of it.”

There are plenty of golfers who think they have what it takes to win a major championship. At 27, Morikawa knows what it takes. He has been there, done that and owns the t-shirt.

Morikawa is reminded of that every time he is home in Las Vegas and happens to saunter past the Wanamaker Trophy he won at the 2020 PGA Championship, or the Claret Jug he took home for winning the 2021 Open Championship. At big events, he shows up.

As recently as last fall, Morikawa was a golfer searching for answers, trying to fix a game that was not in good working order. Funny, though, poor as he played, he did not lose his confidence. That is something always in his quiver. The key, for Morikawa, is regaining the trust he requires to compete at the top level of the game. His longtime coach, PGA of America Golf Professional Rick Sessinghaus, is back. So, too, is Morikawa’s trust in what he is doing.

It showed up on Friday in a five-birdie string on his second nine, beginning the run at the par-4 4th. A chunked 8-iron ended the run and led to a bogey at the par-4 9th, his final hole, but other than that, Morikawa, who has been putting nicely since the Masters, played near-flawless golf.

"Near flawless" would describe Scheffler’s game as well, as he appears to be nearly unbeatable these days. He has captured four of his last five starts, and in the one tournament he did not win in that stretch, he missed a putt on the 72nd hole to force a playoff.

Scheffler said the whirlwind of events that started his day – he would not learn of the morning's fatality until later – left him “shaking” and wrestling with a strange mix of shock and fear. He did all he could to get his heart rate down, trying to control his breathing so that he could hopefully have a chance to play.

Scheffler, who became a first-time dad only a week ago, said the team around him – his agent, his caddie, his coach – helped him a great deal. And then there were the fans of Louisville, who showered Scheffler with appreciation for being there, and doing the best he could, which is what he always does.

“I didn’t know what the reception would be like,” Scheffler said. “To be honest with you, it was great having the fans behind me. They cheered for me really loud. I felt they were really glad to have me competing today, and it was a nice day to come out here and compete.”

Because of the delay in the morning, the entire 156-player field was not able to complete the second round by the time the horn blew at 8:41 p.m to suspend play due to darkness. Seventeen players will resume the round beginning at 7:15 a.m. on Saturday. The number would have been 18, but K.H. Lee withdrew because of illness.

Seventy-nine players were inside the cutline (low 70 and ties) at 1-under 141, which would be the lowest cut in relation to par at the PGA Championship. Not playing on the weekend: Tiger Woods, who made two triple-bogeys in his first four holes on Friday, shooting 78.

The third round will go off in twosomes beginning at 9:00 a.m., with the final group (Schauffele-Morikawa) expected to tee off at 3:00 p.m.