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Schauffele sets aside gut-punch loss for final Masters tuneup

Reigning Olympic champion Xander Schauffele bounces back from a gut-punch loss at the Players Championship in the Valspar Championship, his final tuneup for next month's Masters (Jared C. Tilton)
Reigning Olympic champion Xander Schauffele bounces back from a gut-punch loss at the Players Championship in the Valspar Championship, his final tuneup for next month's Masters (Jared C. Tilton)

Xander Schauffele has set aside a gut-wrenching runner-up Players Championship finish ahead of his final tuneup for next month's Masters as he fights to defend Olympic gold in Paris.

The 30-year-old American faded in Sunday's final round and lost by a stroke to top-ranked Scottie Scheffler at the Players, but has bounced back for Thursday's start of the PGA Tour Valspar Championship at Innisbrook in Palm Harbor, Florida.

"I'm always pretty tough on myself but you kind of put it to rest to a certain extent," Schauffele said, calling the loss a "gut punch."

"I played some really good golf. I was just there, again, in a good spot to win a golf tournament and didn't get it done.

"I wouldn't say I was too hard on myself. I accepted it. Was overall pretty pleased with how I was able to play. Just another close call under my belt for now."

Fifth-ranked Schauffele hasn't won since the 2022 Scottish Open, but since then has five top-10 efforts this year, 11 top-10s last season with two runner-up finishes and two top-10s in the 2022 PGA playoffs.

"I feel like the best is in front of me," Schauffele said. "And the only way it's not going to be in front of me is if I let all these things get to my head and not play my game."

That means shrugging off missed putts and taking a run at the Valspar crown before taking two weeks off and then trying to capture his first major title at Augusta National.

"Feeling better than I did a couple days ago. Just excited to try and win again," Schauffele said.

Schauffele has 11 top-10 finishes in majors without a victory, but matched his best major finish by sharing second at the 2019 Masters.

He wants the chance to defend his Tokyo Olympic title at Paris by staying in the top four among US players in the world rankings, a group that now includes Scheffler, Schauffele, 2023 US Open champion Wyndham Clark and seventh-ranked Patrick Cantlay.

- 'Two better than one' -

But seven compatriots are in the top 20 to keep the pressure on.

"The world rankings is a bit of a free for all right now for the American side," Schauffele said. "I'm in right now and I intend on playing at a very high level and qualifying for Paris and giving myself a run at it again."

PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said merger talks with Saudi Arabia Public Investment Fund (PIF) officials, backers of LIV Golf, were constructive on Monday, but no deal has been made to settle golf's future.

"With the PIF, there's more questions looming," Schauffele said.

"It's going to be impossible to keep everybody happy, but hopefully some sort of unification at the end of the day, and then with that will be (improved) TV ratings.

Asked where he saw golf in 2027, Schauffele replied, "My guess would be we would all be playing together again. I think that's what fans would want, what TV would want and golf as a whole would probably be better off that way."

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