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‘The Valhalla nail-biter that had everything’

Xander Schauffele’s thrilling breakthrough PGA victory over Bryson DeChambeau portrayed major golf in the best possible light at the end of what had been a troubled week for the championship.

This Valhalla nail-biter had everything; it proved that Schauffele does have what it takes at the highest level, while DeChambeau reminded us that he is a unique, charismatic and idiosyncratic talent that should be treasured.

And third-placed Viktor Hovland displayed how fortune can favourably flip in an instant. The Norwegian ended a week where he considered withdrawing through lack of form to feeling for the first time the heat of having a chance to win a major while striding onto the 72nd green.

What a weird and wonderful game it is.

Schauffele deserves huge credit for this win, as gritty as a sarnie dropped in a bunker. He just refused to be beaten and had to hole a closing six footer for birdie to go lower in relation to par than any previous major champion.

We had all known he was the best player out there never to have won a major. He had been of a similar opinion.

“I thought I was,” the Tokyo Olympic champion said.

“Not that people saying it made me think that. I just felt like I’ve done enough work, I’m good enough to do it.

“I just needed to shut my mind up and actually do it.”

The 30-year-old from San Diego had not won a title since the 2022 Scottish Open.

There had been a string of subsequent near misses including coughing up the 54 hole lead at Quail Hollow seven days earlier when he was overwhelmed by Rory McIlroy.

“I’ve become very patient not knocking off any wins in the last couple years. The people closest to me know how stubborn I can be,” added Schauffele.

“When I break it down, I’m really proud of how I handled certain moments on the course… different from the past.”

He had recorded a dozen major top 10s prior to this victory, six of them top fives, and was runner up at the 2018 Open and the following year’s Masters. At this year’s Players Championship he came up short with a putt to force a play-off with Scottie Scheffler.

That was so Xander – golf’s nearly man – the guy who would please his bank manager but leave his silverware polisher unemployed.

“I don’t think I’d ever look at it as lacking,” he reflected on his career to this point.

“I looked at it as someone that is trying really hard and needs more experience.

He added: “All those close calls for me, even last week, that sort of feeling, it gets to you at some point. It just makes this even sweeter.

“Definitely a chip on the shoulder there. It just is what it is at the end of the day. You guys [the press] are asking the questions, probing, and I have to sit here and answer it.

“It’s a lot easier to answer it with this thing sitting next to me now,” he said nodding at a giant Wanamaker Trophy that will require plenty of polishing.

“It’s just fuel, fuel to my fire. It always has been growing up, and it certainly was leading up to this.”

Nerve and excellence a rare feat

Schauffele was the first to birdie the last to win the PGA since Phil Mickelson in 2005 and the occasion before that was the late Payne Stewart in 1989.

It is a laudably rare feat to show such nerve and excellence at the crucial moment.

DeChambeau departed empty handed but had thrown everything at his tilt. It was some consolation that the 30-year-old LIV star emerged as an even greater fan favourite.

The loudest Louisville roars were reserved for this unconventional character, who posted his best major performance since winning the 2020 US Open in a Covid induced vacuum at Winged Foot.

Dechambeau brings much needed personality. While most leading players, Schauffele included, strive for a robotic, emotionless demeanour where highs and lows are treated the same, the Dallas based Californian does the opposite.

His celebration after holing from off the green for an unlikely birdie at the sixth will live long in the memory. There were still 12 holes to go but he was prepared to let all out.

He is a showman and the fans love it. This was a Kentucky sports crowd more than a gathering of exclusively golfing aficionados and they departed thinking better of the game after witnessing the engaging DeChambeau.

He wielded his 3D printed uniform length clubs with skill and power and produced a magical display on and around the greens to become the first golfer to shoot 20 under par at a major and not win.

With the freedom and time afforded by his contract to play the 14 tournament breakaway LIV Tour, DeChambeau has become a YouTube sensation. He is ahead of the curve in connecting with fans and doing so with a new found maturity.

“YouTube has helped me understand that a little bit more,” DeChambeau said. “When the moment comes, knowing what to do, what to say, how to act is really important.

“You know, when I was younger I didn’t understand what it was. Yeah, I would have great celebrations and whatnot, but I didn’t know what it meant and what I was doing it necessarily for.”

He added: “Now I’m doing it a lot more for the fans and for the people around and trying to be a bit of an entertainer that plays good golf every once in a while.”

Never mind that it proved a birdie fest, this was an epic PGA simply for its thrilling golf.

Scheffler’s untidy Saturday 73 robbed the Masters champion of the chance to pursue the grand slam, but given the events of the previous day it was entirely understandable.

His mugshot after being arrested trying to circumvent heavy traffic caused by an earlier fatal accident will be one of the enduring images from a surreal week.

Scheffler remains the man to beat at the pinnacle of the game, especially if the ramifications of last Friday’s incident do not prove significant.

“All of us are climbing this massive mountain,” Schauffele observed. “At the top of the mountain is Scottie Scheffler.

“I’m still not that close to Scottie Scheffler in the big scheme of things. I got one good hook up there in the mountain up on that cliff, and I’m still climbing.

“I might have a beer up there on that side of the hill there and enjoy this, but it’s not that hard to chase when someone is so far ahead of you.”

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