LOS ANGELES — The word has long been out on the PGA Tour. If you’re looking for a Tuesday game during tournament week, setting up a little money game with Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay comes with a caveat: They are a package deal.

“People needle us, you know what I’m saying,” Schauffele said on Saturday afternoon at Riviera Country Club. “To split us up as teammates, but we’ll do whatever; it’s not a big deal.”

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They are two superstar golfers and Southern California natives as closely tied as most on the tour, on and off the course., even if there are more publicized friendships. Certainly, at this point, there isn’t a more formidable pairing, whether they’re joined as one force while donning U.S. team colors or contending seemingly week in and week out on their own.

Schauffele is ranked fifth in the world, Cantlay is seventh. Schauffele, 30, owns seven tour wins, including a team victory in the Zurich Classic with Cantlay, 31, who has eight triumphs. Both still seek the prize they covet most—a major championship.

So when Schauffele made a strong charge in the Genesis Invitational on Saturday with a six-under-par 65, the buzz returned to what looked like a potential Cantlay runaway—setting up a buddy pairing that could produce plenty of fireworks.

When Cantlay stumbled with a bogey on one of Riviera’s more forgiving holes, the par-5 17th, he came home with a 70 in the third round that gave him a two-shot lead over Schauffele and another native Californian, Will Zalatoris, who rallied with his own 65. Because Schauffele finished earlier, he made the final twosome with his friend as the contenders battle for the $4 million first prize.

“It’s a pretty comfortable pairing for us,” Schauffele said. “We play a lot, week in and week out, and we both love to compete. There’s nothing more we like to do than compete in big events. We’ve done it a few times and taken shots at each other. It’s something we talk about and something we want to keep doing.”

The statistics are revealing about how closely matched the two players are. They twice have been in the final Sunday group together—both in 2022—and each has a win, with Cantlay prevailing in the BMW Championship and Schauffele at the Travelers. Overall, they have been paired 20 times as competitors, with Cantlay holding a 10-8 edge with two ties. Schauffele is trending, having been on top in five of the last six. He also has the better overall scoring average in those matchups—68.5 to 69.

As U.S. teammates in the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup, they were formidable before going 0-2 in last year’s American loss in Italy. They have been on three winning U.S. teams, notching a 6-3 mark.

As Cantlay recounted on Saturday, the two first bonded at the 2019 Presidents Cup in Australia, where vice captain Fred Couples suggested they play together. “We played four matches together that week (going 2-2) and we really became friends,” Cantlay said.

Any time they’re entered in the same event, Schauffele and Cantlay play early week games together, and have likely done so more than 100 times. Often, they match up with Scottie Scheffler and Sam Burns, or Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler. Sometimes, they’ll alter the sides—“throw balls,” Cantlay said. The games have become even more frequent now that Schauffele lives part-time in Jupiter, Fla., where many of his brethren reside.

As for this matchup at Riviera—beyond the two-stroke deficit, the edge would seemingly go to Cantlay. The Long Beach native went to UCLA and estimates he played here at least 25 times in college and few dozen other occasions. Schauffele didn’t play Riviera until 2018, and a debut of T-9 is still his best result in six tries. Cantlay has two top-fives here, including a solo third last year.

Schauffele has played the last two rounds bogey-free and has scrambled at an impressive rate, getting up and down at an 82-percent clip. Cantlay’s iron play and putting have been superb. He is second in the field in greens in regulation and first in strokes gained/putting with a whopping 7.38 advantage.

To overtake his friend, Schauffele said, “There’s just going to be a certain amount of self-belief that needs to go in. I’m not going to look at the board too much. I feel like I can just keep doing what I’m doing—get some pressure on Pat … is the most important thing.”

This article was originally published on golfdigest.com