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Friday, June 21, 2024

Xander Schauffele Wins His First Major at the P.G.A. Championship

SportXander Schauffele Wins His First Major at the P.G.A. Championship

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Xander Schauffele can finally remove the albatross from around his neck. Schauffele, golf’s beacon of unrewarded consistency, won the PGA Championship at Valhalla Golf Club on Sunday for his first career major victory.

He did it in one of the more memorable ways possible, sinking a six-foot birdie putt on 18 with the entirety of the crowd watching. After watching the ball circle the hole before finally dropping in to get Schauffele to 21-under-par, one stroke ahead of Bryson DeChambeau, he threw both arms into the air and let out perhaps the biggest smile of his career.

It was the lowest score in major championship history.

“I was actually kinda emotional after the putt lipped in. It’s been a while since I won and I just kept on saying it all week, I needed to stay in my lane. Man was it hard to stay in my lane today,” Schauffele told CBS after lifting the Wanamaker Trophy.

Starting the day in a loaded and crowded leaderboard full of top players, Schauffele shared the lead with Collin Morikawa, only adding more pressure to end his major woes. Schauffele failed to win starting in three final groups already this spring. Twenty times he’d finished in the top 20 of a major without a win. Each impressive week was also just another bitter-sweet reminder of not being good enough to win the trophy at the end.

But in a low-scoring week, Schauffele opened with a major-record 62 and finished with a 65 to properly establish himself as one of golf’s best players. He led or co-led after every round.

A 27-foot birdie putt on No. 1 to begin the final round seemed to indicate Schauffele was sending a message to the rest of the field to come catch him. He had another birdie on No. 4, then birdies on Nos. 7 and 9 to go out in a 31. It still was not enough to seize complete control, with Viktor Hovland also making a run.

Schauffele’s bogey on No. 10, his only dropped score of the day, could have been it for his major championship chances. But the 30-year-old responded with back-to-back birdies on 11 and 12 to get to 20-under. He stayed there, stringing together pars, and forced DeChambeau to come catch him. DeChambeau did, setting up a thrilling finish.

Schauffele got to 18, a 573-yard par 5 playing as the easiest hole on the course Sunday, knowing he needed a birdie to win and a par to force a playoff. He had a difficult second shot, his feet in a fairway bunker and a choked-up 4-iron in his hands. But he hit it to 34 feet, and then chipped it up to the green for the major-winning putt.

“I really didn’t want to go into a playoff against Bryson. … I told myself this was my opportunity. Just capture it,” Schauffele said.

Schauffele’s been one of the best and steadiest players on tour for seven years running. He’s never finished a season with fewer than 11 top-20 finishes and finished top 10 in nine of his first 17 majors. He played on two Ryder Cup teams and only Lee Westwood, Colin Montgomerie and Steve Stricker had spent more weeks in the world top 10 without a major win.

Yet so many of those impressive weeks ended distant from the actual winner. When he had a chance to make a run at Hideki Matsuyama at the 2021 Masters, he placed his tee shot on 16 in the water. And far more of his Sundays ended between fifth and 15th than truly fighting for first place. He won just 2 of 8 tournaments in which he entered the final round with a share of the lead.

But Schauffele has such a complete game that you always knew he’d stay in contention week to week. In DataGolf’s skill rankings, he’s top-10 in all of driving, approach and putting. It’s why he has only finished one tournament all season worse than 23rd.

“I think not winning makes you want to win more, as weird as that is,” Schauffele said Thursday. “For me, at least, I react to it, and I want it more and more and more, and it makes me want to work harder and harder and harder.”

The hope was always that the consistency and overall game would, over the course of time, finally lead to a big win. Sunday, the probabilities went in Schauffele’s favor. He can join the club.

Required reading

(Photo: Ross Kinnaird / Getty Images)


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