SHANGHAI • Xander Schauffele earned a belated birthday present with the biggest victory of his young golf career, chasing down Tony Finau to win the WGC-HSBC Champions in a play-off.
The 2017 PGA Tour Rookie of the Year started the day three off the lead, but picked up birdies on the last two holes at Sheshan International Golf Club to join Finau on 14-under 274 and force a play-off.
He then sank a birdie putt on his second trip to the 18th before watching his fellow American come up short with a longer effort.
Schauffele, who turned 25 on Thursday, mixed six birdies with two bogeys for a roller-coaster four-under 68 to rein in Finau, who finished with a 71.
A few holes earlier, the pair had pulled away from flight mate Justin Rose, who faltered late for a 72 to finish four shots behind in third. The defending champion and English world No. 3 just failed to replace Brooks Koepka as No. 1.
The American, who shot a 69 to finish joint-16th, reached the summit for the first time after his CJ Cup win in South Korea two weeks ago.
For Schauffele, he earned a US$1.7 million (S$2.35 million) cheque from the US$10 million World Golf Championship event.
"It means a lot, last season I really wanted to justify my rookie year by winning but I wasn't able to do it," the Californian said after his third PGA Tour victory, following triumphs at the Greenbrier Classic and Tour Championship last year. "This wasn't the same season, but it's the same calendar year so I'll take it."
With high winds and firm greens making low scores difficult, Finau's overnight lead gave him the advantage heading into the back nine, but it went to the wire.
Schauffele summoned up a brilliant tee shot and an equally good birdie putt at the par-three 17th.
At the par-five 18th, he could have claimed the win without a play-off, sending his eagle putt inches past the hole after flirting with the water. Finau matched his outstanding approach to reach the green in two and also sank a birdie.
Said Schauffele: "I felt like I was playing great all day. I was in control of my ball and kept my head down. When I signed my card, I went, 'Oh wow, I went birdie-birdie to get into this play-off'. I was in a world of my own out there."
Thai Kiradech Aphibarnrat (71) shared fourth with American Andrew Putnam (72) at 280, an impressive feat for both in an exclusive field featuring all four Major winners this year and five of the world's top-six golfers.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE