Advertisement

Superb Schauffele plays his best with hunger to end win drought

American Xander Schauffele reacts after sinking his final putt for a nine-under 62 that matched the low round in major golf history and gave him the first-round lead at the PGA Championship (Christian Petersen)
American Xander Schauffele reacts after sinking his final putt for a nine-under 62 that matched the low round in major golf history and gave him the first-round lead at the PGA Championship (Christian Petersen)

Xander Schauffele says he's playing close to his best golf just as a two-year win drought has him yearning for a major breakthrough like never before.

Third-ranked Schauffele, the Tokyo Olympic champion, matched the lowest round in major golf history with a nine-under 62 on Thursday to seize the first-round lead at the PGA Championship at Valhalla.

Asked if he was playing the best golf of his career, the 30-year-old American replied, "Probably, yeah. I would say it's very close to it if not it."

Schauffele has endured 19 top-10 finishes in PGA Tour events since last winning at the 2022 Scottish Open, and his 12 top-10 major finishes don't include any victories.

But his bogey-free 62, to equal the 62 he fired at last year's US Open as two of the four best rounds in major golf history, indicate he's ready for bigger things.

"There are spurts, moments in time, where you feel like you can control the ball really well. You're seeing the greens really well. You're chipping really well," he said. "But over a prolonged period it's tough to upkeep high performance."

It's also tough to keep confident and resilient after repeated defeats but Schauffele has been patient and hopes his moment is finally at hand to snap major and tour win droughts.

"Not winning makes you want to win more, as weird as that is," he said. "For me, at least, I react to it, and I want it more and more and more, and it makes me want to work harder and harder and harder.

"The top feels far away and I feel like I have a lot of work to do, but just slowly chipping away at it."

He wasn't chipping on the course, with seemingly every approach setting up a short birdie putt. He doesn't look back and wonder if an unprecedented 61 might have been possible.

"There are always shots you can pick apart or chips that you can pick apart you could have hit better, but I'm very content with how I played," back-nine starter Schauffele said.

"I was able to birdie 11 and had a sweaty par on 12. It wasn't like a dream start. Being 1-under through three probably would have been a good start for me anyways.

"When you shoot something low, you kind of get lost in the process of what you're doing versus thinking about how low you're trying to shoot."

Schauffele was proudest of his 15-foot par-saving putt at the par-4 12th after finding dense rough off the tee.

"Was able to make that putt early in the round, which was really big for me," he said.

Schauffele aims for another low round on Friday afternoon, when storms are forecast.

"Who knows with the weather?" he said. "The course might be playing completely different.

"Just going to bed knowing I'm playing some pretty good golf might just wipe the slate clean."

js/rcw