- Senior college football writer
- Author of seven books on college football
- Graduate of the University of Georgia
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — As Scottie Scheffler stood over his ball lying awkwardly in the rough above a greenside bunker on the eighth hole at the Stadium Course on Sunday, the men trying to chase him in the final round of the Players Championship were self-imploding.
Australia’s Min Woo Lee started the round in second place, 2 strokes behind Scheffler, but had already carded a triple-bogey 7 on the par-3 fourth hole. After another wayward approach shot, Lee’s ball was sitting in the sand on No. 8. It led to another bogey. It wouldn’t be his last.
Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama, the 2021 Masters champion, tried to make a late run with four birdies on the front and three straight on the back. But then he had a double-bogey on the par-4 14th and his tee shot on the 18th had settled in pine straw, resulting in another bogey.
Max Homa, who has played about as well as anyone on tour not named Scheffler, Rory McIlroy or Jon Rahm this season, also was suddenly within striking distance. After making just one birdie on the front, Homa went a combined 4 under on the first three holes on the back. Then Homa caught a terrible break when his tee shot hit the sun-baked green of the iconic par-3 17th and bounced off the back and into the water. A double-bogey 5 knocked him out of contention.
With chaos happening all around him, Scheffler did what he seemingly always does. He calmly pulled out a wedge, chipped his ball a few feet left of the hole and then watched it roll in for his first birdie of the round. Just like that, Scheffler had a 3-shot lead and for all intents and purposes, the Players was over. If there was any doubt left, he birdied the next four holes to open up a 6-shot lead.
Scheffler, 26, ended up winning by 5 strokes over England’s Tyyrell Hatton and 7 over Norway’s Viktor Hovland and Tom Hoge. It was the widest margin of victory at the Players since Stephen Ames won by 6 in 2006.
Just over a year ago, some golf fans might have wondered whether Scheffler would ever win on tour. He needed 71 professional starts to claim his first PGA Tour victory at the WM Phoenix Open in February 2022. In the 13 months since then, Scheffler has needed just 26 starts to win five more times, including his first major at the Masters.
With his latest victory at the so-called “fifth major,” Scheffler collected $4.5 million, the biggest payout in men’s golf history. Since the start of last season, he has earned more than $35 million in purses and bonuses.
“I didn’t feel any different [after winning for the first time], but I would say I maybe am a bit more comfortable knowing what I need to do,” Scheffler said. “I think before Phoenix I had this idea that I had to play perfect on Sundays and hit nothing but good shots and that’s not necessarily how golf is played. Very rarely do I hit it exactly how I want to and maybe only a couple times a tournament. Most of it is just managing your way around a golf course.[Caddie] Teddy [Scott] has been a huge part of that just helping me stay patient and just kind of grinding things out and trusting ourselves. He’s been a huge part of that on the golf course.”
Scheffler also reclaimed the No. 1 ranking in the Official World Golf Ranking for the third time in his career. Rahm, who entered the week at No. 1, was forced to withdraw before the second round because of a stomach bug. McIlroy couldn’t hit his driver straight or make a putt and missed the cut.
Scheffler joined Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus as the only players to win the Masters and the Players in a 12-month span. Woods did it in 2001; Nicklaus did it twice from 1974 to ’76, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Woods and Scheffler are also the only players to win both of those tournaments at age 26 or younger. Woods won the Masters three times and the Players once before turning 27.
“I think I get excited for a good hard test,” Scheffler said. “I feel like that I can find a way to make pars and hang in there. And I mean, this week I think I had five bogeys for the whole week. Around this place that’s really, really I would say hard to do and that’s probably what I’m most proud of is just playing so solid. Yeah, I think I just like the challenge of kind of harder golf courses.”
In less than a month, Scheffler will head back to Augusta National Golf Club with yet another trophy in his trunk. After he defended the Phoenix Open last month and nearly went back-to-back at the Arnold Palmer Invitational last week, the Masters might want to go ahead and dry-clean his green jacket.
“Yeah, he’s very impressive,” said Hatton, who posted a 7-under 65 on Sunday to finish solo second and collect $2.725 million. “Incredibly consistent. He’s had an amazing 15-month stretch of golf. Played with him last Sunday [at Bay Hill] and it was clear he didn’t have his best that day, but he still hung around and had a chance there right at the end. It’s a pretty tough thing to do to be up there when you don’t have your best golf and still give yourself a chance to win.”
If anyone was waiting for Scheffler to make a big mistake on Sunday, it never came. Scheffler’s style might make vanilla seem like rocky road, but it’s becoming almost foolproof. He hits fairways and greens. He rarely puts himself on the wrong side of the green. He hits approaches and chip shots close enough to the hole that he doesn’t have to be a great putter. On the rare occasion when Scheffler does make a mistake, he doesn’t compound it. No one on the tour has been better at bouncing back.
Jordan Spieth, who plays a lot of golf with Scheffler back home in Dallas, said it would be unfair to describe his performance over the past 13 months as a “run.” Spieth won seven times on tour in 2015 and ’16, including three of the four majors.
“That golf is pretty incredible, given he lost in a couple playoffs, and his top 10s are off the charts,” Spieth said. “He’s just playing that good. I think the team around him and the way he’s wired, he’s extremely grounded. He’s got really good parents, great family structure. [His coach] Randy Smith’s been around for a long time, and he’s been with him forever. So I don’t see it changing. He’s in a good position to be able to continue to do this for a while.”
If anything, Scheffler is only getting better. Spieth and Max Homa talked about Scheffler being more daring around the green.
“He’s got great hands. He’s got every shot,” Spieth said. “When you’re presented with those shots, if you don’t feel like you have house money, you play them a certain way. But if you feel like it doesn’t matter, you’re going to play the shot that could go closest, even if it means disaster could happen. You still sit there and go for it and pull it off, similar to how Phil Mickelson played most of his rounds.”
Added Homa: “I feel like he just knows what he’s going to do. He has this stabbing spinner. He’s got the really good kind of soft one out of the rough. I feel like he’s just very artistic in that way. I feel like he sees them going into the hole.”
Scheffler has won so much, according to Spieth, he might feel like he has nothing to lose anymore.
“I started to just trust flop shots and stuff where instead of making sure you have a putt at it,” Spieth said. “You’re like, ‘No, I’m going to try and see this go in,’ and I feel like he’s just playing like that. There’s nothing to lose, everything to gain for him, and it’s a really nice place to be where he’s at. I’ve been there.”
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