April 18th, 2024

Scheffler goes back-to-back in Players Championship thriller at Sawgrass

By Doug Ferguson, The Associated Press on March 17, 2024.

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. (AP) – Already the best in the world, Scottie Scheffler added another layer to his legend Sunday. He became the first player to win back-to-back in 50 years of The Players Championship by matching the biggest comeback and the lowest closing round by a winner.

Scheffler holed out for eagle from the fourth fairway and had four birdies in a five-hole stretch around the turn, sending him to an 8-under 64 and a one-shot victory that wasn’t decided until the final putt.

Xander Schauffele, Brian Harman and Wyndham Clark all had a chance to force a playoff with a birdie on the daunting 18th hole at the TPC Sawgrass.

Clark had the last shot, a putt just inside 18 feet that dipped into the cup on the left side and came out on the right side, leaving him stunned as he placed his hand over his mouth.

“I don’t know how that putt doesn’t go in,” Clark said. “Even when it kind of lipped, I thought it would lip in. I’m pretty gutted it didn’t go in.”

Scheffler, who started the final round five shots behind, was on the practice range preparing for a three-hole playoff when he got the word and showed more emotion than usual for someone who is getting used to winning.

“It’s tough enough to win one Players,” Scheffler said. “So to have it back-to-back is extremely special. Yeah, really thankful.”

This was no ordinary week. He struggled to take the club back early in his second round because of a neck issue and battled to a 69. He looked to be out of it Saturday afternoon until finishing with three straight birdies.

And then he delivered a masterpiece on the Players Stadium Course. His 64 matched the lowest final round by a Players champion, last done by Davis Love III in 2003, and he tied Justin Leonard (1998) with his five-shot comeback.

Corey Conners of Listowel, Ont., was the top Canadian, finishing tied for 13th at 11 under. Mackenzie Hughes of Hamilton, Ont., and Nick Taylor of Abbotsford, B.C., tied for 26th at 8 under.

“I’m a pretty competitive guy, and I didn’t want to give up in the tournament,” Scheffler said. “I did what I could to hang around until my neck got better. Today it felt really good.”

Scheffler finished the PGA Tour’s premier championship without a bogey over the final 31 holes during a tense final hour involving four of the top 10 players in the world.

All of them had their chances.

Schauffele, who started the final round with a one-shot lead, was still in control until he missed tee shots to the right on the 14th and 15th holes and couldn’t salvage par. He had a six-foot birdie chance on island-green 17th – the toughest hole at Sawgrass on Sunday – and didn’t come close to a reasonable birdie chance hitting out of the pine straw on the 18th.

He finished with a 70.

“My dad told me a long time ago to commit, execute, and accept. I’m swallowing a heavy dose of acceptance right now,” Schauffele said. “I tried to commit, I executed poorly on some shots, and here I am accepting it.”

Harman hung around long enough to have a chance, but he missed out on a birdie chance at the par-5 16th and couldn’t convert birdie chances over the last two holes in his round of 68.

Clark also made late push. He narrowly missed a 12-foot eagle putt on the 16th. He rode the slope to four feet for birdie on the 17th. And his birdie to force a playoff looked good all the way until it wasn’t. Clark shot a 69.

Scheffler finished at 20-under 268 and won $4.5 million from the $25 million purses, pushing the 27-year-old from Dallas over the $50 million mark in his career.

AP golf: https://apnews.com/hub/golf

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