Xander Schauffele, the defending champion of the Travelers Championship, is gearing up to defend his title amidst both privilege and pressure. This week, he had the unique opportunity to visit ESPN headquarters, where he engaged in a friendly putting contest with Chris Berman. Schauffele, who relishes the role of defending champion, is eager to prove himself once again. Let's take a look at his performance in previous title defenses.
In 2018, at the Greenbrier, he finished T-21. At the TOUR Championship that same year, he secured a T-7 spot. Unfortunately, he lost in a playoff against Rory McIlroy at the 2019 WGC-HSBC Championship. Another close call occurred at the 2020 Sentry Tournament of Champions, where he lost in a three-way playoff to Justin Thomas. Most recently, he achieved a commendable T-4 finish at the 2023 Zurich Classic, a team event partnered with Patrick Cantlay.
Schauffele's title defense journey doesn't end at the Travelers Championship. He will also defend his crown at the Genesis Scottish Open from July 13-16. The question arises: Does he carry a little more swagger when returning to a place where he has previously triumphed?
"With as much swagger as any golfer has, I guess," replied Schauffele, known for his consistent performance on the PGA TOUR. He currently holds the record for the longest streak of consecutive cuts made, an impressive 27. Schauffele takes great pride in this achievement.
He elaborated, "Yeah, you have good feelings and memories, and for whatever reason, I've played pretty solidly in attempts to defend a title. I've never been able to defend a title...but when you have good thoughts or putts going in from certain spots and you can tap back into that, it's always a good thing."
Reflecting on last year's Travelers Championship, Schauffele faced a challenging final round. Initially leading by one stroke over his good friend Patrick Cantlay, Schauffele found himself trailing Sahith Theegala with just three holes remaining. Theegala's birdie on the 17th hole put him one stroke ahead.
Schauffele recalled, "I thought I was going to have to birdie 18 just to tie." Theegala's unfortunate double-bogey on the 18th hole allowed Schauffele to seize the opportunity. Schauffele birdied the closing hole, finishing at 19 under par and securing a two-stroke victory.
Amidst the excitement of that riveting finish, a significant achievement went unnoticed. For the first time in his PGA TOUR career, Schauffele successfully converted a 54-hole lead into a victory. It had been a nagging concern for him, and now he can finally check that box.
Looking ahead, Schauffele aims to accomplish another milestone: the successful defense of a title. He was informed that Tiger Woods achieved this feat 24 times in his illustrious career. Schauffele, a seven-time PGA TOUR winner at the age of 29, responded with a curious glance and a smile. Though he didn't vocalize it, his expression seemed to convey, "But that's Tiger Woods. I'm just looking to get my first."
Indeed, Schauffele has another opportunity to defend his title at this week's Travelers Championship.