AUGUSTA, Ga. – Xander Schauffele had a front-row seat to the buzz saw that was Hideki Matsuyama’s performance on Saturday at the 85th Masters.
With Matsuyama sitting 6 feet away from an eagle putt at 15 that would catapult him into the lead, Schauffele stalked his own eagle putt. Only difference is Schauffele’s was from 60 feet. No big deal. Schauffele poured in the putt and celebrated by knocking knuckles with caddie Austin Kaiser.
“I knew Hideki was going to make his,” Schauffele said. “I was just trying to stay in touch.”
That was easier said than done. Matsuyama canned his eagle putt and then drilled beautiful irons at 16 and 17 to set up short birdies and finished off a bogey-free 7-under 65 to claim the 54-hole lead at 11-under 205.
But Schauffele, who fired a 68, is lurking yet again at another major championship and heads into the final round in a four-way tie for second at 7-under 209. At just 27, he’s already logged seven career top-10 finishes in majors, including a tie for second at the 2019 Masters. Two years ago at Augusta National, Schauffele was leading on Sunday standing on the 15th tee box when he fanned his drive to the right into the trees. Just like that, his dreams of a green jacket began to unravel.
“I was literally standing over my driver and I thought, ‘Holy crap, I’m leading the Masters,’ ” Schauffele once told Golfweek. “Which is cool, but at the same time, fake it till you make it. Act like you’ve been there. And I didn’t. I could have easily stepped off and kind of regrouped, but I pulled the trigger and hit it into the trees and I was scrambling for par on 15.”
“I’m glad it happened sooner than later in my career,” he said when asked to recall that experience after his round on Saturday, “and I think I can learn from that.”
Schauffele did enough in the third round to earn a spot in the final group alongside Matsuyama, which should suit him just fine. Schauffele noted that he knows a few words of Japanese thanks to his maternal grandparents, who lived in Japan and his mother, who grew up there from the age of two, allowing him to converse with Matsuyama, whose English is limited, better than most.
“Some bad ones too, unfortunately,” Schauffele said. “I’m not going to say now.”
Schauffele and Matsuyama combined to shoot 11-under par on Saturday, with Matsuyama doing most of his damage after play was suspended for more than an hour. Matsuyama’s performance brought out the best in Schauffele, who played the four par-5 holes at Augusta National in 5 under on Saturday, and continues to be a greens-in-regulation machine.
“You want to play with someone who’s going to shoot 7 under,” Schauffele said. “You hope that it’s yourself, and if not you chase. You’d rather play with someone that’s shooting 65 than shooting 74. It was nice to chase after him.”
Schauffele will have 18 holes to chase down Matsuyama on Sunday in his bid for his maiden major championship, as well as end a streak of eight runner-up finishes since his last victory at the 2019 Sentry Tournament of Champions.
“It’s all part of the process,” Schauffele said of his close calls. “I’m a huge fan of putting myself in position with nine holes to go and learning from each and every mistake and also the things I did well in those moments.”