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Schauffele wins PGA Championship with birdie on 18th

In Sports
May 20, 2024
Fans cheer for Xander Schauffele on the ninth hole during the final round of the PGA Championship golf tournament at the Valhalla Golf Club, Sunday, May 19, 2024, in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/Matt York)

Fans cheer for Xander Schauffele on the ninth hole during the final round of the PGA Championship golf tournament at the Valhalla Golf Club, Sunday, May 19, 2024, in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/Matt York)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Xander Schauffele is one of only two living men to own an Olympic gold medal in golf. But until Sunday, Schauffele hadn’t been able to claim any of golf’s biggest prizes.

He has now. Schauffele used a final-round 65 to outlast Bryson DeChambeau and Viktor Hovland at the PGA Championship at Valhalla. Schauffele led or co-led every round in a chaotic, controversial major, and at last has a major to call his own.

Both DeChambeau and Hovland walked to the par-5 18th one back of Schauffele. Neither found the fairway on their drives — DeChambeau in a fairway bunker, Hovland in the left rough. Both had putts for birdie — DeChambeau from 11 feet, Hovland from 10. DeChambeau rolled his in … with a teardrop finish; Hovland missed.

That meant the 30-year-old Schauffele, two holes behind them, needed a birdie of his own to claim that elusive major. He scrambled for par at 17, then walked to 18 needing a birdie to avoid a playoff. Like DeChambeau, he missed the fairway, then faced an awkward stance in a sand trap on his second. He managed to rip his approach to the front of the green, pitch up to six feet, setting himself up for a birdie and the victory.

With DeChambeau watching on from the driving range, Schauffele faced the most important putt of his career … and curled it in for the victory.

At 21-under, it’s the lowest score to par in major championship history.

Valhalla has hosted four PGA Championships in its history, and the very first one, in 1996, demonstrated exactly how peculiar tournaments at this course could be. Kenny Perry posted a -11 number on Sunday to lead the field, then made the fateful decision to go sit in the TV booth and commentate as the final groups came in. Mark Brooks matched his number, and won on the first playoff hole when an ice-cold Perry didn’t get the chance to warm back up.

Four years later, Tiger Woods pointed the way to victory, winning in a playoff over Bob May. In 2014, Rory McIlroy played deep into the growing darkness on Sunday night to win his fourth — and, to date, last — major. But for all the history this course has seen, it’s never witnessed anything quite like this week.

Every major week begins on Monday, although the tournament doesn’t actually start until Thursday … meaning there’s a whole lot of time for non-golf and golf-adjacent stories to claim an outsized share of the public’s attention.

Golf’s ongoing civil war dominates conversation between tournaments, with the PGA Tour and LIV Golf apparently no closer to any sort of agreement now to repair the game’s divide than they were a year ago. The majors are now the only place where the world’s best from both tours — the PGA Tour’s Scottie Scheffler and McIlroy, LIV Golf’s Brooks Koepka and Bryson DeChambeau — actually play together anymore. The PGA Championship took an important step forward in bridging the chasm between the two tours by inviting a number of LIV players who wouldn’t have otherwise qualified for the tournament.

Even so, the PGA indicated that this hopefully wouldn’t be a long-term solution. “I don’t think the game is big enough for two tours like that,” PGA CEO Seth Waugh said earlier this week, “and I think we are diluting the game in a way that is not healthy.”

Adding to the pessimism about golf’s future: the fact that Jimmy Dunne, one of the architects of the PGA Tour’s initial deal with the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund, announced his resignation from the PGA Tour Board in a letter released Monday afternoon. Dunne cited the fact that “no meaningful progress” had been made on the agreement, and termed his own role “superfluous.”

Many of the players who have risen to positions of power disputed that doom-laden characterization of the negotiations. “It’s ongoing, it’s fluid, it changes day-to-day,” Woods said Tuesday. “Has there been progress? Yes. But it’s an ongoing negotiation, so a lot of work ahead for all of us with this process, and so we’re making steps, and it may not be giant steps, but we’re making steps.”

Also in the “outside-the-ropes” division of golf news: Rory McIlroy’s impending divorce. News broke Monday that McIlroy had filed for divorce from wife Erica after seven years of marriage. McIlroy didn’t discuss his personal life during his Wednesday media session, and swatted away even the gentlest inquiries with lines like “I’m ready to play this week.”

Valhalla may nor may not get another major in the future, but its 2024 version began with a brilliant, chill-inducing moment: “My Old Kentucky Home” sounded as the fog rolled over the hills of the course.

The only better performance of the day: Schauffele, who threw down a magnificent 62 in the first round. Up until that point, there had only been three 62s achieved in any major in golf history, and Schauffele had one of them — last year at Los Angeles Country Club in the U.S. Open. (The others: Rickie Fowler last year at the U.S. Open, just before Schauffele, and Branden Grace in 2017 at the Open Championship.)

“It’s a great start to a big tournament, one I’m obviously always going to take,” Schauffele said. “It’s just Thursday. That’s about it.”

The 62 put him three strokes ahead of the field, with Tony Finau, Mark Hubbard and Sahith Theegala all bunched at -6. At that moment, the 2024 PGA Championship seemed like it would unfurl like a routine, competitive tournament. A few hours later, it would become anything but routine.

In this mug shot provided by the Louisville Metropolitan Department of Corrections Friday, May 17, 2024, Scott Scheffler is shown. Masters champion Scottie Scheffler was detained by police Friday morning on his way to the PGA Championship, with stunning images showing him handcuffed as he was led to a police car. (Louisville Metropolitan Department of Corrections via AP)

In this mug shot provided by the Louisville Metropolitan Department of Corrections, Scottie Scheffler is shown. Scheffler was detained by police Friday morning on his way to the PGA Championship. (Louisville Metropolitan Department of Corrections via AP)

The news began before dawn on Friday. As rain pelted Louisville, tragedy struck at Valhalla. John Mills, a 69-year-old security guard, was killed shortly after 5 a.m. in an incident involving a shuttle bus. About an hour later, Scottie Scheffler attempted to enter Valhalla and was stopped by a police officer on the scene. The incident escalated into a full-on confrontation that ended with Scheffler in handcuffs, hauled off to jail.

The arresting officer insisted that Scheffler “refused to comply and accelerated forward, dragging [the officer] to the ground.” Scheffler countered in a statement that he was “proceeding as directed by police officers.” He spent time in jail and, incredibly enough, calmed his mind by stretching to prepare for his tee time.

Scheffler reached the course with less than an hour to spare before his tee time, and simply went out and opened with a birdie en route to an astounding 66. He ended the day at -9, one of many at that number, three strokes off Schauffele’s lead. Morikawa finished at -11, one behind Schauffele, while Theegala ended the day at -10.

The cut was a surprisingly low -1, and that sent a number of notable names home early, including Jon Rahm, defending U.S. Open champion Wyndham Clark, and Woods, who still seems to be struggling to find his form after long layoffs.

Fog shrouded the entire course on Saturday morning, leading to a two-hour, 20-minute delay of the last players in Round 2 and the start of Round 3. Once the players began the third round, the Moving Day horse race was off. The third-round low man: Shane Lowry, who carded another 62 in a major just two days after Schauffele’s. Lowry had an 11-foot putt to shoot 61, which would have been the lowest round in major championship history, but couldn’t quite close it out. He still finished at -13, two strokes behind the leaders.

Schauffele faltered a bit, allowing a two-stroke, back-nine lead to evaporate, and he and Morikawa shared the overnight lead at -15. Theegala was one stroke back, followed by Dechambeau, Lowry and Viktor Hovland followed at -13. In all, 15 players ended Saturday within five strokes of the lead, and six within just two strokes.

Not everyone moved upward, however; Scheffler and Koepka both struggled. Scheffler apparently ran out of energy, finishing the day at +2. Koepka didn’t have his touch, and despite closing with two birdies he carded a +3 that took the defending champion out of contention.

The earliest players were on the course almost seven hours before the leaders teed off, and right from the start, it was clear that Sunday would be a low-scoring day. Players in the morning waves put up surprisingly low numbers — Jordan Smith had the early low round at -7, with Tommy Fleetwood finishing at -6 on the day and Koepka carding a maddening, opportunity-missed -5.

To re-set: At the start of Sunday, the leaderboard looked like this:

Collin Morikawa, Xander Schauffele: -15

Sahith Theegala: -14
Bryson DeChambeau, Shane Lowry, Viktor Hovland: -13

Theegala drew first blood with a spectacular 55-foot putt on the first hole to tie Schauffele and Morikawa at -15. Soon afterward, DeChambeau tapped in for birdie on the second, and then Schauffele topped them all with a birdie on the first to take the solo lead, and the race was underway.

Theegala immediately gave back his birdie, bogeying the second. From there, he faded out of contention.

DeChambeau continued to put the pressure on the leaders with another birdie at 5, putting him just one stroke behind Schauffele. But Schauffele continued to hammer the gas, birdieing the fourth to take a two-shot lead on the field at -17.

And that’s kind of how it went, except for Morikawa who couldn’t find a red number, parring his way around the front nine.

Playing partners DeChambeau and Hovland fed off each other’s energy, both birdieing the sixth to close to within one and two strokes, respectively, of Schauffele’s lead. Hovland poured in a birdie on the par-5 7th to close to within one stroke.

When the leaders made the turn, here’s how the leaderboard stood:

Schauffele -19
DeChambeau, Hovland -17
Rose, Morikawa -15

Hovland stayed hot on the back nine, rolling in a birdie on the 12th to close to within a stroke. And when Schauffele struggled through the 10th and bogeyed, Hovland was dead even at the top of the leaderboard, with DeChambeau one stroke back.

Schauffele rebounded from his bogey on 10 to birdie the 11th, effectively turning the PGA Championship into a three-horse race. He and Hovland stood tied at -19, with DeChambeau one stroke back at -18.

Schauffele would birdie the 12th to get to 20-under and regain the lead by himself — a lead he held until DeChambeau rolled in a birdie at 18, setting up a dramatic finish.

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