Scottie Scheffler’s flourishing finish makes Players Championship history

A closing 64 meant he became the first player to successfully defend the title in the tournament’s 50-year history

Phil Casey
Monday 18 March 2024 06:58 GMT
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Scottie Scheffler celebrates after becoming the first player to successfully defend The Players Championship (Lynne Sladky/AP)
Scottie Scheffler celebrates after becoming the first player to successfully defend The Players Championship (Lynne Sladky/AP) (AP)

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Scottie Scheffler overturned a five-shot deficit to become the first player to successfully defend the Players Championship in the tournament’s 50-year history.

Scheffler carded an eagle and six birdies in a flawless closing 64 at Sawgrass to finish 20 under par, a shot ahead of US Open champion Wyndham Clark, Open champion Brian Harman and Xander Schauffele.

Clark birdied the 16th and 17th to keep his hopes alive but agonisingly lipped out for another birdie on the last to force a play-off.

Overnight leader Schauffele paid the price for dropped shots on the 14th and 15th and also missed from seven feet for birdie on the treacherous 17th.

“It’s pretty special,” Scheffler told CBS. “It’s something you don’t really get the opportunity to do very often.

“It’s tough enough to win one Players so to have it back-to-back is extremely special and I’m really thankful.

“I put up a good fight for four days, Teddy (Scott, his caddie) kept me in a good head space. We had a great finish yesterday, got off to a slow start today and then the hole-out on four kind of propelled us a little bit.

“I hit a lot of good shots today, did a lot of good things this week and it’s nice to come out on top.”

Asked how he had coped with the neck injury he suffered during Friday’s second round, Scheffler added: “I’m a pretty competitive guy and didn’t want to give up in the tournament.

“I did what I could to hang around until my neck got better and then today it felt really good.”

Scheffler, who also won the Arnold Palmer Invitational by five shots last week, kickstarted his challenge by holing out from 92 yards for an eagle on the fourth and also birdied the fifth, eighth and ninth to race to the turn in 31.

That gave the world number one his first share of the lead and although Schauffele moved back in front with birdies on the seventh and ninth, Scheffler birdied the 11th and then drove the green on the short par-four 12th to set up another.

Schauffele picked up a shot on the same hole to take the outright lead again, but Scheffler birdied the 16th to draw level before Schauffele crucially dropped shots on the 14th and 15th.

Clark’s chance looked to have gone when he bogeyed the 14th to fall three behind, but the world number five – who also finished runner-up to Scheffler at Bay Hill – birdied the 16th and 17th before somehow missing out on his hat-trick on the last.

“I don’t know how that putt doesn’t go in,” Clark said. “It was kind of right centre with like a foot to go, and I knew it was going to keep breaking, but it had speed and I thought it was going to go inside left, and even when it kind of lipped, I thought it would lip in. I’m pretty gutted it didn’t go in.

“I just played back-to-back weeks on two pretty challenging golf courses that I traditionally haven’t done very well on, and just went second and second. I’ll take those positives. I played awesome in both weeks.

“Maybe next week sometime I’ll really be able to look at those positives and feel good about it, but right now I’m pretty down.”

England’s Matt Fitzpatrick birdied the last four holes to finish fifth on 16 under after a closing 69, while Rory McIlroy had to settle for a share of 19th following a final round of 72.

McIlroy made a tournament record 26 birdies during the week, but also recorded 11 bogeys and three double bogeys to finish nine under.

“I did the same thing at the back end of 2020 I remember, I was making a ton of birdies and making a ton of mistakes as well,” McIlroy said.

“It’s not all bad. It could be a lot worse, I guess. If these are the worst finishes that I’m going to have, I feel like that’s my floor and I haven’t quite got to the golf that I’ve wanted to play to get to my ceiling.

“Hopefully, over the next few weeks I can work at it and get closer to that level of golf.”

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