PGA Championship | The expected end of an enigmatic drought for Xander Schauffele

Xander Schauffele seemed eternally doomed to having to settle for the consolation prize. As the sun set on Sunday, he finally and rightfully became the major tournament champion we had been waiting for.


Posted at 7:29 p.m.

Updated at 8:39 p.m.

Contested in Louisville, Kentucky, the 106e edition of the PGA Championship borrowed the premise of the famous Derby, organized in the same state.

The number of contenders for victory was dizzying at the start of the final round. Betting on any of the 15 strongest candidates offered a justifiable chance of winning big.

And as in the most epic horse race, the suspense lasted until the very end. The victory was decided by a few millimeters and consistency prevailed over power. Then, on the sidelines, people dressed in polo shirts and sporting imposing white hats celebrated the favorite’s triumph.

Schauffele had never finished a major tournament at the top of the rankings. At 18e hole, the pressure was at its peak. Bryson Dechambeau was hitting balls at the practice field awaiting his fate. The best representative of the LIV Golf series returned a final score of -20, thanks to a delicate and long enough putt on the last hole to join Schauffele in first place.

If the latter had never won a major tournament before, it was mainly because of his annoying habit of crashing and holding his stick a little too tight during tense moments.

On the other hand, his most serious opponent thrived on this type of confrontation where anything goes.

Schauffele therefore had to make a birdie on the last hole to avoid the three-hole extension during which he would have been the underdog. His tee shot, as on 17e, was rather erratic, on the left. His ball landed on the lip of the pit. The American therefore made his second shot with both feet in the sand. Obviously, it is impossible to attack the flag located more than 200 yards away. This permissive par 5, however, served him on his approach shot, which he slowed down a little less than seven feet from the cup.

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PHOTO ADAM CAIRNS, USA TODAY SPORTS

Xander Schauffele at 18e hole

This short distance putt, similar to thousands of putts already practiced in training, represented the most important and significant shot of Schauffele’s career. By succeeding, he got his hands on 3.3 million dollars, but above all, he would finally be able to breathe, by entering the club of immortals. By missing it, he once again exposed himself to criticism relating to his inability to settle the debate.

His red Odyssey putter kissed his Callaway ball before it finally fell to the bottom of the cup. In front of a monstrous crowd, the 30-year-old golfer had just brought home the best card in major tournament history with a final score of -21, thanks to a final round of 65 (-6).

The eternal second

In his San Diego residence, Schauffele certainly has his Olympic gold medal, won at the Tokyo Games in 2020, in some sort of case.

All the same, it is as if in the eyes of fans and observers, its image had never changed. The eternal loser with a friendly face suffered from a serious lack of notoriety. Before Sunday, the third golfer in the world ranking was still considered the best active player without a major title on his record.

Despite his seven victories on the circuit, his 12 top 10s including two second places in grand slam tournaments weighed more heavily in the balance of his sympathy.

This is why this title will be saving for him. And he didn’t steal this title. He became the first golfer since Brooks Koepka in 2019 to lead every round of the tournament. Thursday, he offered a card of 62. Among the four other golfers to have equaled this mark in a major tournament, Schauffele is the only one to have done it twice.

And even if his final round started a bit like a horse-drawn carriage in the slush, he recovered well. The 7,609 yards of the very permissive Valhalla golf club allowed him to express himself to his fullest extent. Some highlights, like his long putt for birdie on the first hole and his approach shots on 11e and at 12e allowed him to compensate for his gaps in 5e6e and 10e hole, which he was still able to save.

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PHOTO ADAM CAIRNS, USA TODAY SPORTS

Xander Schauffele celebrates his victory in the 18the hole

Schauffele won by not excelling in any phase of the game. He hit only six of 14 fairways (68e rank) and 14 of the 18 greens in regulation (13e), but he got out of complex situations in a good way. What will remain of this victory, however, is his way of handling pressure. Until the 13the hole, six candidates could still maintain the hope of lifting the Wanamaker trophy. But only Schauffele resisted.

Finally, DeChambeau (-20), Viktor Hovland (-18), Thomas Detry (-15), Collin Morikawa (-15) and Justin Rose (-14) either opened the machine too late or ruined their rhythm too quickly.

The DeChambeau threat

DeChambeau came close to making the PGA Tour look bad for a second year in a row. Last year, his colleague from the LIV series, Brooks Koepka, took top honors during the only major tournament bearing the name of the circuit that they deserted.

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PHOTO ADAM CAIRNS, USA TODAY SPORTS

Bryson DeChambeau

But whether you love or hate the Texas Bomber, he still remains the most entertaining golfer on the planet, even if we see him a lot less. Over time, it’s as if in addition to his missiles on the tee boxes, he has also refined his short game. And his performance since the start of the weekend has been sensational. No one did better than him on Sunday to save his failed greens in regulation. Even from long distance with his irons, DeChambeau was smoking hot, as evidenced by his 221-yard approach inches from the flag at the 18e hole.

He handed in a card of 64 (-7), the best of his career in a major tournament.

With a sixth place at the Masters Tournament and a second position at the PGA Championship, he will certainly be among the favorites at Pinehurst, during the United States Open, in a few weeks. Tournament he won in 2020.

Leader at the start of the day, Collin Morikawa had a round without fireworks and the two-time major tournament winner would most likely have appreciated seeing some sparks in his game. He delivered a round equal to par, punctuated by 16 pars, a bogey and a birdie. A card that would make any Sunday golfer envious, but which is insufficient to win a major on such malleable fairways.

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