The nearly man makes it at last

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No one can deny the Olympic champion is a deserving major winner.
Posted on
May 22, 2024
by
Robert Green in
Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

Heading into this year’s USPGA Championship at Valhalla in Louisville, Kentucky, Xander Schauffele had a clear take on the man who had just beaten him by five shots in the Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow. “He’s Rory McIlroy, you know?” Schauffele said. “He hits it 350 yards in the air downwind and he has shorter clubs into firm greens than anyone else. When he’s on, he’s on. Hats off to him for winning. He played unbelievably well.”

Seemingly buoyed rather than depressed by the shock (to us!) announcement of his impending divorce, McIlroy therefore arrived at the venue where he had won the most recent of his four major championships, albeit all the way back in 2014, in impressive form. He played decently at the PGA, too, even if at times his putter defied instructions and intentions. But this was a week when neither he nor anybody else could prevent Schauffele from getting his way.

On the first day, the 30-year-old Californian became the first player to shoot 62 in a major championship for the second time. Actually, that rather undersells his achievement. It had only been done four times ever - by Branden Grace at the 2017 Open at Royal Birkdale and by Schauffele and Rickie Fowler in last year’s US Open at the Los Angeles Country Club. By Saturday evening of this PGA, it had happened again, this one conjured up by Shane Lowry. Which still means that Schauffele owns 40% of all the major 62s.

On a course set up for low scoring. Schauffele’s winning total was a 21-under-par 263: the lowest-ever 72-hole score in a major. Given that, it was no surprise that his final-round playing partner, Collin Morikawa, fell away pretty much from the off when he began with 14 consecutive pars, a run uninterrupted until he bogeyed the 15th. Ultimately, Schauffele was run closest by Bryson DeChambeau, who finished with a 64 which was then overhauled by Schauffele’s 65, sealed with a six-foot birdie putt at the last to earn him his first major victory. He was the Olympic champion in Tokyo three years ago and no one could deny that he’s a deserving major winner. His career had previously seen 12 top-10s in major championships, six of those top-5s. This season had seen five top-5 finishes on the PGA Tour, with no wins. At Valhalla, the nearly man finally made it. He said later: “I kept telling myself, ‘I need to earn this’. I need to prove this to myself. This is my time.” It was.

He had been the world No. 3. Now he’s at No. 2. The man ahead of him, of course, is Scottie Scheffler, who entered the arena as the new Masters champion and winner in four of his last five starts. But Scheffler’s attempt to thwart Schauffele was marred by a kerfuffle regarding traffic protocols with a police officer early on Friday morning which led to him being arrested, charged and mug-shot, his orange prison scrubs making him look a little like an incarcerated Sunday version of the aforementioned Fowler. His rounds of 67-66-73-65 would suggest there was a 24-hour delay before a reaction set in. Whatever, he ended eight behind Xander.

As he was leaving the course on Sunday, Scheffler agreed that “hectic” would be an apt word to describe his week. For his part, Schauffele acknowledged: “I won this today but I’m still not that close to Scottie in the big scheme of things.” Perhaps so, but all considered this was surely more than baby steps towards closing the gap.

You can follow Robert Green on Twitter @robrtgreen and enjoy his other blog f-factors.com

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About Robert Green

Robert Green is a former editor of Golf World and Golf International magazines and the author of four books on golf, including Seve: Golf’s Flawed Genius. He has played golf on more than 450 courses around the world, occasionally acceptably.

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