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A ‘very healthy’ Xander Schauffele returns to the WM Phoenix Open, an event where he’s yet to finish outside the top 20

TPC Scottsdale has been a home away from home for Xander Schauffele. In five career starts at the WM Phoenix Open, the world No. 6 has never finished outside the top 20. In fact, over the last two seasons, Schauffele has a third and a second.

Quite the resume.

Earlier this season, the 29-year-old was forced to WD from the Sentry Tournament of Champions due to a back injury. Just a month later, he’s feeling close to 100 percent.

“I feel very healthy, which is great,” he said Wednesday, where he sported a haircut given to him by his caddie Austin Kaiser. “It’s been, Palm Springs and Torrey was a little iffy, good days, bad days. But just kind of a healing process. Very lucky, like I said before, I’ve got a really good team around me, and they’ve been telling me and giving me good advice on what I can and can’t do and should and shouldn’t do.

“I’ve been following their every step, and I’m feeling really good body-wise.”

Phoenix Open: Thursday tee times, how to watch

Despite the wavering condition of his back over the last few weeks, Schauffele’s game has stayed in great shape. He tied for third at the American Express in his first start back from his WD, then tied for 13th at the Farmers Insurance Open.

On Wednesday, Rory McIlroy responded with a confident “yes,” when asked if he believes he’s the best player in the world. Does Schauffele think he’s ever reached that level?

“I feel like I’ve had flashes where I’ve played to that level,” he said. “I think the beautiful part of what I’m doing is I feel like I haven’t even touched up on that yet. There’s a lot that I need to do to get to that point where I wake up and can just do everything with the golf ball, and the mental game with that also follows.

“Rory and the guys who are very confident in saying it, they’ve been there at No. 1. They believe they can be No. 1, and I do, as well, but I just know I need to do a few more things with my game in order to do that. Well on my way.”

Xander Schauffele plays his tee shot on the 16th hole during the third round of the 2022 WM Phoenix Open at TPC Scottsdale. (Photo: Allan Henry-USA TODAY Sports)

The mental side of the game will be imperative over the next few days when the field reaches No. 16, the infamous stadium par 3, home to the rowdiest fans in the sport.

Schauffele’s strategy for the track’s signature hole isn’t all that complicated.

“Yeah, juices get flowing in there, tend to club down versus trying to hit a sawed-off shot. Yeah, just hit the green and people will cheer for you. It’s pretty simple.”

A lot has changed since the first time he played it.

“I feel like I was way more nervous,” Schauffele said when asked about his first experience at No. 16. “You kind of get anxious when you’re out there because the music is so loud. I think I was more nervous. I think it was kind of just nerves to hit the green.

“Then I missed the green a bunch of times and I got booed, and it’s not so bad. Nothing is worse than hitting a bad shot on your own, by yourself. It just sucks all around, so getting booed on top of it doesn’t really make it too much worse.”

Schauffele tees off with Jordan Spieth and Tony Finau at 9:59 a.m. ET Thursday.

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