CROMWELL, Conn. – Before the first round of the Travelers Championship on Thursday, Sahith Theegala, a PGA Tour rookie, was asked if the young players on the field were concerned about the group of veterans rejecting the tour to join the rival circuit LIV Golf, argued from Saudi Arabia.
“Actually, there is a next-man mentality,” replied Theegala, 24. “There are a lot of incredibly good players coming up. There will be no problem finding the next group of best golfers.”
With a hole left in the final round of the Travelers on Sunday, it looked like Theegala was going to be prophetic in the most personally satisfying way.
Theegala held a one-shot lead while on the 18th tee after recovering to capture third-round leader, Xander Schauffele, who started the day with a three-shot lead over Theegala. Looking for a driver and needing to hit a cut shot from left to right, Theegala, who hadn’t foiled any of the previous 17 holes, felt safe.
“A cut is my daily bread,” he later said. “And I hit it right, she just didn’t cut it. I don’t know why, adrenaline, maybe?
The shot stopped in a fairway bunker, a few inches from an imposing and steep bank. Theegala needed two hits to escape the sand, which led to a double bandit and paved the way for Schauffele’s sixth career tour win. He birdwatched on the 18th hole and won the Travelers Championship with two strokes on Theegala and JT Poston.
For Schauffele, who won the gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics last year, it was his first victory on an individual tour in three years. (He teamed up with Patrick Cantlay to win the Zurich Classic in Louisiana in April.)
“I’m happy because I was expecting to be in a playoff,” said Schauffele, 28. “It was a really strong pitch and Sahith kept charging. It was a bit of a shock to see how it turned out in the end. I knew the goal would be close “.
Statistically, Schauffele experienced one of his best seasons, even though his efforts had not led to an individual victory, something Schauffele acknowledged on Sunday night.
“I simply hadn’t put together four good rounds in a row, which is why mentally this is going to be such a boost for me,” he said. “I feel like this might jumpstart some things for me. At the end of the round, I felt really stuck. “
It was the second time this year that Theegala had come close to earning his first touring win. At the Phoenix Open in February, an unfortunate rebound on the seventeenth hole of the final round resulted in a bogeyman that left him one shot from qualifying for the playoffs. That defeat made Theegala cry, but on Sunday he was calm and measured in the analysis of the final sequences. From time to time he smiled, albeit ironically.
“I have been playing a lot of golf all week and will continue to do what I am doing,” he said. “This is the feeling I’m leaving with: many positives”.
Schauffele agreed with Theegala, in more ways than one.
“He’s a really good player, and he just needs to keep knocking on the door until that thing breaks,” Schauffele said.
He added: “There has been a lot of talk about where golf is right now. Some say there is a rift in our game, but the future is bright. “
With nine holes remaining on Sunday, Theegala was one of four golfers under 30 to compete for the lead at Travelers, one of the oldest events on the tour. The group included Michael Thorbjornsen, a 20-year-old amateur, and Poston, 29. Both were vying to unseat Schauffele at the top of the chart.
Entering the closing holes, the duel between Schauffele and Theegala began to resemble match play, although Theegala was playing a group ahead of Schauffele, who was in the last group of the day.
Theegala first equalized when birding at the par-4 15th hole, and took the lead outright by sinking an 11-foot birdie at par-4 17th.
As usual, the Travelers’ course was packed with top-tier golfers, but this year was especially busy as the TPC River Highlands golf course outside Hartford is only 105 miles from the Country Club outside Boston, which hosted the US Open last week.
Poston, who joined Travelers No. 162 in the men’s world rankings and a career win on the PGA Tour, in 2019, on Sunday he had a sparkling one, six under par 64. Poston had three birds on the front nine and another three on the rear nine and had no bandit. It was his third place in the top 10 in his last eight events.
Thorbjornsen qualified for this year’s US Open, which was held near his childhood home in Wellesley, Mass., But missed the cut last week. At Travelers he was sharp, with four rounds in the 60s, including a 65 in the second round. On Sunday, he hit the par-5 sixth hole after hitting a fairway wood 260 yards on the green and leaving a tap-in putt for a three on the hole. Four birdies and two scarecrows led to a four under 66.