CROMWELL, Conn. — Before the first round of the Travelers Championship on Thursday, Sahith Theegala, a PGA Tour rookie, was asked if young players in the field were worried about the cluster of veterans spurning the tour to join the rival, Saudi-backed LIV Golf circuit.
“Actually, there’s a next man up mentality,” Theegala, 24, answered. “There are a ton of incredibly good players coming up. There’s not going to be an issue finding the next group of top golfers.”
With one hole remaining in Sunday’s final round of the Travelers, it appeared that Theegala was going to be prophetic in the most personally satisfying way.
Theegala held a one-stroke lead as he stood on the 18th tee after rallying to catch the third-round leader, Xander Schauffele, who began the day with a three-shot edge over Theegala. Reaching for a driver and needing to hit a left-to-right cut shot, Theegala, who had not bogeyed any of the previous 17 holes, felt confident.
“A cut is my bread and butter,” he said later. “And I hit it well, it just didn’t cut. I don’t know why — adrenaline, maybe?”
The shot came to rest in a fairway bunker, inches from an imposing, steep bank. Theegala needed two shots to escape the sand, which led to a double bogey and paved the way for Schauffele’s sixth career tour victory. He birdied the 18th hole to win the Travelers Championship by two strokes over Theegala and J.T. Poston.
For Schauffele, who won the gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics last year, it was his first individual tour victory in three years. (He teamed with Patrick Cantlay to win the Zurich Classic in Louisiana in April.)
“I’m happy because I was expecting to be in a playoff,” Schauffele, 28, said. “That was a really strong field, and Sahith just kept charging. It was a bit of a shock to see the way it played out at the end. I knew the finish would be tight.”
Statistically, Schauffele has been having one of his best seasons, even if his efforts had not led to an individual victory, something Schauffele acknowledged Sunday evening.
“I just hadn’t put four good consecutive rounds together, which is why mentally this is going to be such a boost for me,” he said. “I’m feeling like this could jump-start some things for me. At the end of the round, I felt really locked in.”
It was the second time this year that Theegala had come close to earning his first tour victory. At the Phoenix Open in February, an unlucky bounce on the 17th hole of the final round led to a bogey that left him one shot short of qualifying for a playoff. That loss left Theegala in tears, but Sunday he was calm and measured in his analysis of the final sequences. He occasionally smiled, if wryly.
“I played a lot of good golf all week, and I’m just going to keep doing what I’m doing,” he said. “That’s the feeling I’m leaving with — a lot of 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 he breaks that thing down,” Schauffele said.
He added: “There’s been a lot of talk about where golf is right now. Some say there’s a fracturing of our game, but the future’s bright.”
With nine holes remaining on Sunday, Theegala was one of four golfers under 30 jockeying for the lead at the Travelers, one of the tour’s oldest events. The group included Michael Thorbjornsen, a 20-year-old amateur, and Poston, 29. Both were in contention to unseat Schauffele at the top of the leaderboard.
Entering the closing holes, the duel between Schauffele and Theegala began to resemble match play, although Theegala was playing one group ahead of Schauffele, who was in the final group of the day.
Theegala tied for the lead for the first time when he birdied the par-4 15th hole, and he took the lead outright by sinking an 11-foot birdie at the par-4 17th.
As usual, the field at the Travelers was deep with top-ranked players, but this year was especially chock-full because the T.P.C. River Highlands golf course outside Hartford is only 105 miles from the Country Club outside Boston, which hosted last week’s U.S. Open.
Poston, who entered the Travelers No. 162 in the men’s world rankings and has one career PGA Tour victory, in 2019, had a sparkling, six-under-par 64 on Sunday. Poston had three birdies on the front nine and three more on the back nine and did not have a bogey. It was his third top-10 finish in his last eight events.
Thorbjornsen qualified for this year’s U.S. Open, which was held near his boyhood home of Wellesley, Mass., but he missed the cut last week. At the Travelers, he was sharp, with four rounds in the 60s, including a 65 in the second round. On Sunday, he eagled the par-5 sixth hole after knocking a fairway wood 260 yards to the green and leaving a tap-in putt for a three on the hole. Four birdies and two bogeys led to a four-under 66.