Familiar place, unfamiliar faces at Kapalua to start year

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FILE - Xander Schauffele acknowledges the gallery after putting on the fourth green during the third round of the Tournament of Champions golf event at Kapalua Plantation Course in Kapalua, Hawaii, in this Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020, file photo. Schauffele is among 16 players in the Tournament of Champions who didn't win last year. (AP Photo/Matt York, File)

KAPALUA, Hawaii – Xander Schauffele already is a footnote in PGA Tour history as the first player to post the lowest score in a stroke-play tournament without getting credit for the win.

He wouldn't mind being another asterisk at Kapalua.

No one has ever gone more than a year without winning and ended the drought at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. Winning is the only way to get to Maui at the start of the year, so Schauffele and 15 other players ordinarily wouldn't be here. Except that 2020 was no ordinary year.

Because the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the PGA Tour for three months, the winners-only field at Kapalua was expanded to include anyone who made it to the Tour Championship.

“I got an asterisk for winning the Tour Championship that counted in certain things and not in others,” Schauffele said. “I'm all about entering weird categories, I guess. This is what I do.”

Schauffele finished at 15-under 265 at the Tour Championship, the lowest score by three shots. But the FedEx Cup finale now has a staggered start based on the standings, and top seed Dustin Johnson (who started at 10-under par) was crowned the champion. Schauffele only received first-place world ranking points, but no trophy.

Part of him believes he earned his spot at Kapalua. And part of him is just happy to be here.

“It's called the Tournament of Champions. I'm fortunate and lucky to be here,” he said. “You should win to be here. It's a bonus for winning. I always want to be here and we'll do everything in our power to be here.”