April 10, 2021 | 10:47pm
AUGUSTA, Ga. — Xander Schauffele could have ruined perhaps the greatest golf story ever told. He was among the three players who were one stroke, one swing, one lucky bounce away from tying Tiger Woods in the 2019 Masters, and forcing Woods into a playoff absolutely nobody in creation wanted to see.
Thankfully for all viewers not related to Schauffele, or not tethered to his chances by way of a wager, he finished tied for second with Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka at 12-under, giving the 43-year-old Woods, at 13-under, a moment to match Jack Nicklaus’ 1986 Masters victory at age 46.
Schauffele had birdied the 13th and 14th holes to take the Masters lead, his 24th and 25th birdies of the week, but closed with four pars to fall just short.
“That was, to me, a nice rookie mistake I made,” Schauffele said Saturday after shooting a 4-under 68 to land at 7-under for the tournament, four strokes behind leader Hideki Matsuyama. “Just got caught up in the moment. I’m glad it happened sooner than later in my career, and I think I can learn from that.”
Schauffele, 27, will wake up Sunday morning as the highest-ranked player on the leaderboard. He is sixth in the world with more big-time major championship experience behind him than most would think. Schauffele has finished in the top 10 in half of his 14 major appearances, including five top-fives. He’s also a four-time PGA Tour winner, though he hasn’t won a tournament in more than two years.
“It’s all part of the process,” he said of his near-misses. “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.”
Schauffele drained a 60-foot eagle putt on the par-5 15th Saturday to stay in contact with Matsuyama and give himself a credible chance in the final round to do what he failed to do in 2019. Out of San Diego, Schauffele said he learned a lot about playing Augusta National by playing practice rounds with 1992 champ Fred Couples.
“You can learn how to be chill and cool from Freddie,” Schauffele said.
He’s going to need every bit of that chill and cool on Sunday’s back nine.
“I’ve had some success here, but for some reason I see Tiger and I see red,” Schauffele said. “I don’t know why that is. But when someone says, ‘The Masters,’ it’s either Jack and yellow or Tiger and red. I’m looking forward to creating some memories myself here on property.”