By Andrew Both
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland (Reuters) - Xander Schauffele is rapidly emerging as a player for the big occasion and he was the final threat to Francesco Molinari on a wild British Open Sunday.
The final two-stroke deficit disguised how close the young American came to winning at Carnoustie, where he had a chance to take the sole lead with a 10-foot birdie putt at the 16th that would have put him one shot ahead of Molinari.
But the opportunity went begging and when Molinari sank a six-foot birdie at the 18th the Italian was a stroke ahead.
Schauffele did not hear the cheers that greeted Molinari’s final putt.
"I was in my own world," he said, though he saw when he got to the green that he needed to pick up another stroke.
It was too late. He had sprayed his approach and, perhaps distracted by a crying baby before his chip, the subsequent bogey left him needing a miracle eagle at the last to force a playoff. It was not to be.
A couple of hours earlier even a chance coming down the stretch seemed a long shot after the 24-year-old Californian son of a German father and Taiwanese mother had dropped four shots in three holes from the fifth.
But fellow overnight leaders Jordan Spieth and Kevin Kisner were also having problems so Schauffele decided to keep his head down and grind away.
"Chaotic is probably the best way to put it," he said. “Jordan and I ... were in the strangest spots possible.
"Every time I looked up at the leaderboard there were four, five, six guys in the lead and five (or) six one back.
"So I tried to duck my head after making double-bogey I figured looking at the board wasn’t going to do me any good. (I was) just happy to claw my way back a little bit.
“I figured no-one was going to run away."
Shortly after the final group started the back nine, six players were tied for the lead, including fellow Americans Kevin Kisner and Kevin Chappell.
Kisner (74) parred the final four holes to join Schauffele (74) in a tie for second with Justin Rose and Rory McIlroy at six-under 278.
Chappell (73) finished another shot back, in the hunt until a double-bogey at the penultimate hole, where his hopes ended in the middle of a gorse bush.
Schauffele took positives from the latest leap on an astonishingly quick learning curve. In six major championship appearances, he has finished in the top six three times.
"I had to face a little bit of adversity and I still gave myself a chance,” he said.
"I’m going to look at it as a positive and try to handle the situation a little better next time.”
(Reporting by Andrew Both, editing by Ed Osmond)