FORTH WORTH, Texas: The quiet of Colonial made Xander Schauffele feel as though he were back home in San Diego playing with his friends. In this case, his buddies happen to be some of the biggest stars in golf.
Schauffele made a 12-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole Saturday to break out of a six-way share of the lead with a 4-under 66, giving him one-shot lead over an All-Star cast going into a final round of the Charles Schwab Challenge.
Jordan Spieth took only 10 putts on the front nine and had the lead until he didn’t hit the 15th green from 81 yards away, leading to bogey. He had a 68 and was in a chasing pack that featured Justin Thomas, US Open champion Gary Woodland, Collin Morikawa and Branden Grace.
The PGA Tour returned after three months because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and it didn’t take long to show its fan base just what it was missing.
Fourteen players were separated by three shots, including Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose and Patrick Reed, who made the cut with one shot to spare and shot 63 to give him a chance.
Golf fans should be in for a treat — in front of the TV, anyway.
Colonial is the first of five tournaments in the return to golf that doesn’t allow spectators. Players have had three days to adjust to the lack of sound. Sunday is different, everyone trying to generate their own momentum without the energy typically delivered from outside the ropes.
Schauffele was at 13-under 197.
Woodland birdied his last two holes for a 66 and will play with his Presidents Cup teammate in the final group.
Right behind will be Thomas, the former PGA champion and world No. 1, who went 11 holes without making a birdie in good scoring condition until two over the final five holes in a 66 that put him right in the mix. He played alongside Grace, who also had a 66.
Spieth passed a big test.
Stuck in a slump, he had five tournaments last season when he started with two rounds in the 60s and was left behind when he could not break par on Saturday.
There were a few anxious moments for him, such as an iron off the fifth tee that would have finished on the practice range if not for a fence in place for the tournament. He got up-and-down from short of the green to escape with birdie. His next tee shot was right and banged off a cart — one of the loudest sounds of the day — leaving him blocked by a tree. He punched it low into a back bunker and saved par.
But he did not make a birdie over the final nine holes, and the 15th cost him when his lob wedge came up short.
No matter. He was one off the lead, and his tie for second is his best 54-hole position since the Colonial last year. He shot 72 in the final round and tied for eighth.
Harold Varner III, still looking for his first PGA Tour victory, started with a one-shot lead and birdied the opening hole. That was his last birdie. Varner could not get putts to fall, including two birdie chances inside 8 feet toward the end. He had to settle for a 70, but was still only two shots behind.