This one was a laugher, folks. There’s no other way to put it, considering how Scottie Scheffler manhandled the field at this week’s Players Championship. And especially since Scheffler did laugh after hitting his tee shot on the 72nd hole on Sunday. Right rough? Insane lead? No big deal.
Pete Dye’s TPC Sawgrass Stadium Course was built to produce drama and award precision, especially on the watery closing stretch that’s highlighted by the iconic par-3 island-green 17th. But the reigning Masters champion made the PGA Tour’s marquee tournament essentially an anticlimactic exhibition.
Scheffler, who opened the day with a two-shot lead, closed with a three-under 69 to finish 17 under for the week, win by five and claim the biggest winner’s check ($4.5 million) from the largest purse in PGA Tour regular-season history.
It’s the 26-year-old Texan’s second victory of the season following his win at the WM Phoenix Open last month. It’s also his first Players title and sends him back to World No. 1, knocking Jon Rahm out of the top spot.
Scheffler’s win lacked drama, but the battle for second place was pretty good. Tyrrell Hatton started the day tied for 26th but tied a back-nine scoring record with a seven-under 29 to set the clubhouse lead at 12 under. That turned out to be the number the majority of the contenders not named Scheffler sat around for most of the day on Sunday, but none stayed there.
And with the Players boasting its biggest purse ever, that meant Hatton’s heater was worth a solo second and $2.725 million, which is basically what Scheffler received for winning the Masters last season.
Yet despite how this one finished, it wasn’t immediately a runaway.
Scheffler’s two-shot lead was cut to one after Min Woo Lee, who was playing with him in the final pairing, birdied the first hole, and a Scheffler bogey on 3 had them tied at 13 under. Several holes ahead, Hideki Matsuyama was also making a move, birdieing six of eight to get to 12 under and just one back.
But in a matter of minutes, the whole leaderboard shuffled.
Matsuyama made double bogey on 14, and around that same time, Lee found the water and made triple on 4. Just like that Scheffler had a three-stroke lead over Maysuyama, Lee and Max Homa, who went birdie-eagle-birdie on Nos. 10-12 to surge up the leaderboard.
Viktor Hovland later got to 10 under, too, making it four players three strokes behind Scheffler, all wondering if he’d let them back in. He didn’t.
Lee birdied 7 to cut the lead to two again, but Scheffler went on a tear beginning on the 8th. He chipped in for birdie, which turned out to be the first of five straight that vaulted him miles ahead. The last one during that stretch — rolling in a 3-footer on the par-4 12th — gave him a six-shot lead over Hatton. Lee, who was just two back standing on the 8th tee, was suddenly 10 behind.
“I knew the conditions were going to get really hard late and I did a really good job of staying patient, not trying to force things,” Scheffler said. “Then I got hot kind of in the middle of the round and, yeah, tried to put things away as quickly as I could.”
Even the rare blemish didn’t hurt him. Scheffler missed the fairway on 14 and was forced to punch out and made bogey. He parred 15 and 16 and walked to the tee box of the diabolical 17th hole with a five-stroke lead.
Five shots is significant, but the 17th hole has ruined countless rounds of pros and amateurs alike. Winds were strong on Sunday, too, and the previous 18 pros before Scheffler and Lee got there played it in a combined 16 over. One-third of them found the water. Scheffler, while playing the 16th, could see balls splashing and hear the crowd’s reaction. It was just 133 yards, but it was Scheffler’s last true test.
He passed. Scheffler safely found the middle of the green and used the slope for the ball to trickle to nine feet. Par.
On 18, the tough par-4 finisher, Scheffler’s drive went so far right — left is water, so the miss is right — he giggled as the ball nestled into the rough. He punched out, knocked it onto the green and, of course, rolled in the 20-footer to save par. He now joins Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus as the only pros to hold Players and Masters titles at the same time.
It’s Scheffler’s sixth career PGA Tour victory, and all of them have come between February and April the past two seasons. There are a few weeks remaining, and maybe a start or two for Scheffler, before the first major of the season arrives. The defending Masters champion is getting hot, and Augusta National is looming.
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