WILMINGTON, Del. — Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele went from being teammates to close friends and now seem to be inseparable on the PGA Tour, so the final round of the BMW Championship might have the feel of one of their countless practice rounds.
Except for the stakes.
Cantlay holed out from 106 yards in the fairway on the par-5 14th and had a 6-under 65 despite twice missing 3-foot par putts. That gave him a 1-shot lead over Schauffele and Scott Stallings going into Sunday in the second FedEx Cup playoff event.
Schauffele had an eagle early in the round with an approach to 5 feet on the par-5 third hole and he played bogey-free for a 67.
Sunday will be the sixth time in eight FedEx Cup playoff events they have played together, and it will be the second time this year they have played in the final group. Schauffele led by a shot at the Travelers Championship and shot 68 to win. Cantlay had a 76. They also won the Zurich Classic as partners.
The typical practice round is match play of some variety, winner-take-all. This one could determine who goes to the Tour Championship as the No. 1 seed and starts the chase for the FedEx Cup with a 2-shot advantage. That depends on Masters champion Scottie Scheffler, who joined Adam Scott 2 shots behind.
Cantlay, who was 12-under 201, is trying to become the first back-to-back winner of the BMW Championship since it became part of the FedEx Cup playoffs in 2007.
He knows from experience the value of being a top seed at the Tour Championship. After his playoff win in the BMW Championship last year at Caves Valley, he had a 2-shot lead at the start of the FedEx Cup finale and wound up winning by 1 shot to claim the $18 million prize.
“My head is not even there right now,” said Cantlay, who was at 12-under 201. “I think the best way to handle this playoff system is to just focus on doing your best in the tournament that you’re in and not worry too much about the points. So that’s what I’m going to do.”
And there’s another reason. This is far from a two-man show on the south course at Wilmington Country Club that is sunbaked and fast on the greens.
Scott, trying to work his way into the top 30 to reach the Tour Championship, held his own with a 69 and was only 2 shots behind. He started the postseason at No. 77 and is coming off a tie for fifth last week just to make it to the BMW.
Also 2 shots back was Scheffler, the world No. 1 who answered consecutive bogeys late in his round with a 4-foot birdie for a 68.
Rory McIlroy started slowly and could manage only a 70, leaving him 5 shots off the lead. Jordan Spieth, who began the weekend just 1 shot behind, missed par putts of 3 feet and 2 feet and didn’t have much else go right in his round of 74 that took him out of contention.
Cantlay and Schauffele became fast friends at the Presidents Cup in 2019 at Royal Melbourne and now take holidays together, along with countless practice rounds. It’s different with a scorecard in hand, though the comfort level is obvious.
“I know how he hits the ball, he knows how I hit the ball. If I flush one or he flushes one, it sort of is extra information that we can use. I like to use that as an advantage, and we’re good friends, so it’s a very sort of easygoing pairing even though we’re trying to beat each other,” Schauffele said.
Give this round to Cantlay, just barely.
Schauffele was leading when Cantlay missed a 3-foot par putt — he also missed one from a little closer on the 17th — and after they matched two-putt birdies on the 12th, Cantlay holed a birdie putt from 8 feet on the 13th and then spun back a lob wedge for eagle at the 14th.
That put him in the lead, and after the shocker of a short miss for par, he finished with another lob ledge that expertly used a backstop and rolled down to 8 feet for birdie.
Delaware had never hosted a PGA Tour event, so this is new for everyone. That explains why Cantlay, with a wedge in hand, was walking to the front of every green to see the slopes and find the best play. It worked on the 14th for his eagle, and on the 18th for his birdie.
Stallings has plenty at stake Sunday, too. He came into the BMW Championship at No. 46 in the standings and now is clearly within range of playing one more week.
“That was my No. 1 goal to start the year,” Stallings said.
This is his 12th year on the PGA Tour and the closest he has ever been to the Tour Championship.