Xander Schauffele Leads Wells Fargo As PGA Tour Signature Event Achieves Its Purpose

Big names are in the mix heading into the weekend at the Wells Fargo Championship, which is what the PGA Tour wanted from its new Signature Events.
Schauffele leads the Wells Fargo Championship going into the weekend.
Schauffele leads the Wells Fargo Championship going into the weekend. / Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Playing the week prior to a major championship has long been a matter of personal preference. For some, they like to compete heading into one of the biggest tournaments. Others prefer to work on their game at home.

But with the advent of the PGA Tour’s Signature Events, the choice, for the most part, has been made for them, especially heading into next week’s PGA Championship and next month’s U.S. Open.

Two tournaments—the Wells Fargo Championship and the Memorial Tournament—have been played, for several years, two weeks before the respective majors. In fact, the Memorial has been a long-time fixture at the end of May and early June, perfectly placed two weeks prior to the U.S. Open.

This year, it will be the week prior, and that has changed some scheduling plans.

Would Xander Schauffele have been here had this not been a big tournament? He is now leading the Wells Fargo through two rounds by four shots over Rory McIlroy and Jason Day and a good tournament here gives him some momentum heading into the PGA next week at Valhalla in Louisville.

But given a choice, many would prefer to take the week off, visit the major venue, perhaps work on their games at home.

“It's weird,’’ said Justin Thomas, who won the 2017 PGA Championship at Quail Hollow and at Southern Hills in 2022. “For the most part I've said I like to take weeks off before majors and the two majors I've won I played the week before, so maybe I'm just going about it completely wrong.

“But I think especially I already kind of felt that way, but after playing at Valhalla Sunday and Monday, this is great prep in my opinion. It's a lot of drivers, it's a lot of long, mid irons, so I think in that aspect it will be good."

It’s hard to imagine skipping a Signature Event. These tournaments with their $20 million purses were designed to reward the top-50 players from last year’s FedEx Cup standings as well as other qualifiers.

And with added FedEx Cup points and five of them—including Wells Fargo—that don’t have a 36-hole cut, it is guaranteed money and points.

The trade-off is you are giving up a week in which you might otherwise be preparing differently for a major.

“I would say my favorite two weeks of the year previously was Akron and the PGA,’’ McIlroy said of the schedule through 2018 that saw the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio, precede the PGA Championship. That is typically the only time Tiger Woods would compete the week prior to a major.

“You had a World Golf Championship leading right into a major championship. I loved those two weeks. They were two big events. You could go to Akron, see where your game is but still get some competitive reps, and if you get yourself in the mix, that's an awesome way to prepare for next week to see where your game stacks up under pressure and against the guys you're possibly going to be playing against the next week as well.

"I've always liked these sort of two big events back to back, a World Golf Championship or a Signature Event going into a major. For me anyway, it's a nice cadence."

In 2014, the last time McIlroy won a major, he captured the WGC in Akron the week before winning the PGA at Valhalla for his fourth major title and second in a row. He had won the British Open at Royal Liverpool a month earlier.

Now the schedule has been changed this year to see this happen before two of the four majors.

Jack Nicklaus’s Memorial Tournament has switched places with the RBC Canadian Open, and although there was some resistance to it, one of the year’s most prestigious events will be played the week before the U.S. Open at Pinehurst.

Last year, several players would have taken off during the week of the Canadian Open.

"I think it's very dependent on the golf course,’’ Thomas said “I don't want to play a place that is totally and completely different or maybe a crazy travel from one coast to coast, time change, whatever it might be, but something like this where we're not far away, it's going to be good to kind of get in the competition and hopefully get as ready as possible for next week."

The good news is the tournament is delivering the desired results so far. Schauffele is slated to play in the final group with McIlroy on Saturday and major champions such as Day and Collin Morikawa are in the mix.

"If you look at the leaderboard, it definitely feels like it’s a Signature Event," Schauffele said.


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Bob Harig

BOB HARIG

Bob Harig is a senior golf writer for Sports Illustrated. He has more than 25 years experience covering golf, including 15 at ESPN. Bob is a regular guest on Sirius XM PGA Tour Radio and has written two books, DRIVE: The Lasting Legacy of Tiger Woods and Tiger and Phil: Golf's Most Fascinating Rivalry. He graduated from Indiana University where he earned an Evans Scholarship, named in honor of the great amateur golfer Charles (Chick) Evans Jr. Bob, a former president of the Golf Writers Association of America, lives in Clearwater, Florida.