CROMWELL, Conn. — All day, Xander Schauffele’s expression never changed.
With so much going on around him — through all of the ups, downs, elation, dejection and drama that came with the day and the week — the 28-year-old Schauffele remained stone-faced.
It’s one of his most important weapons — as important as being long and straight off the tee, a strong iron player and a clutch putter.
“You just lock in,’’ Schauffele said. “I don’t really know how to describe it.’’
Schauffele’s locked-in expression never changed … until he ended a three-year drought without an individual PGA Tour victory with a taut two-shot triumph in the Travelers Championship on Sunday at TPC River Highlands. Then relief washed over his face.
Schauffele put an exclamation point on what was a marvelous week of golf for him — he held a five-shot 36-hole lead and a one-shot 54-hole lead — when he birdied the 72nd hole to finish 19-under par, two shots clear of Sahith Theegala and J.T. Poston.Xander Schauffele won the Travelers Championship on Sunday.Getty Images
It was Schauffele’s sixth career victory, his first since the 2019 Sentry Tournament of Champions and the first time in his career he’s converted a 54-hole lead into a win.
“This is a big win for me mentally, just because I sort of had to check myself,’’ Schauffele said. “When you’ve been out here and things are going easy you just expect to play well all the time. Sometimes, it’s good to take a step back. And I thought I did that this week.’’
The climactic moment of the day — and the tournament — took place on the 72nd hole, where Theegala had taken a one-shot lead after a birdie on 17 and then proceeded to make a mess of 18 as Schauffele watched it unfold from the tee.
Theegala hit his tee shot into a greenside bunker to the left of the fairway, with the ball coming to rest near the lip of the bunker.
He tried to go for the green instead of simply splashing out of the bunker and trying to get up-and-down for par, bladed a wedge and left the ball in the bunker, facing a similar shot to the first shot. This time, he got the ball out, but it was some 80 yards short of the green.
Theegala would take double bogey and drop from 19-under with a one-shot lead to 17-under and one shot behind Schauffele.Xander Schauffele lifts the trophy after winning the Travelers Championship on Sunday.Getty Images
“To sit there and watch sort of what happened was a bit of a shock,’’ Schauffele said. “I knew I had to sort of sack up and take advantage of this moment. After I saw what happened, I knew that there’s a chance par would win, and birdie for sure. I was just so locked in in that moment to hit that fairway and swing as hard as I could off that tee. Nothing else really mattered.
“I knew I had to hit that fairway and hit it anywhere on the green to make par.’’
He did better — hitting the fairway with his drive and carding birdie after stuffing his approach shot to inside 6 feet. And did it calmly, with that stone-faced expression.
It was ironic that Theegala, after his third round on Saturday, praised Schauffele for the way in which he carries himself under pressure, saying, “Xander is the man. I’ve definitely kind of looked up to him the last few years … watching him play. His demeanor is the best.’’
In the end, it was Theegala perhaps unable to control his emotions and decision-making on 18, perhaps allowing the adrenaline rush from taking the lead on 17 overwhelm him.Xander Schauffele reacts after sinking a putt on 18. Getty Images
“We were just trying to figure out what the best way to make four was and try and force Xander to make birdie there,’’ Theegala said of his decision to go for the green from that precarious spot in the bunker. “I knew exactly where we stood. Never in a million years did I think I would allow myself to blade it. All I had to do was chunk it. Somehow my body just … I just straight bladed it.’’
The 24-year-old Theegala walked off 18 with his head bowed and shoulders slumped. He was gutted, knowing he’d allowed a chance to win for the first time slip away.
“I know and all the guys out here know how hard it is to win and how few opportunities there are to win,’’ Theegala said. “That’s why something like this is really, really going to hurt. But [I’ve] just going to grow from it. I did everything I thought I had to do and it just happened to be everything bad culminated on one hole. I did so much good.’’
In the end, though, just a little bit less good than Schauffele.