Scottie Scheffler took on the scary TPC Sawgrass as if he was playing alone. And by the time he got done with a masterful performance Sunday in The Players Championship, that’s about how it looked.
Scheffler ran off five straight birdies in the middle of his round, built a six-shot lead and left all the drama to everyone else on his way to a three-under 69 to win the richest prize on the PGA Tour by five shots.
The victory was worth US$4.5-million and sent Scheffler back to No. 1 in the world for the second time this year. He now has six victories in his past 27 starts on the PGA Tour, including the four wins he had last year culminated by his Masters title.
When he poured in a 20-foot par putt on the final hole, Scheffler had the largest margin of victory in The Players since Stephen Ames won by six in 2006.
“I got hot in the middle of the round and tried to put things away as quickly as I can,” Scheffler said. “Gosh, it’s fun.”
And then the celebration was on with his wife, parents, sister and 87-year-old grandmother, who kept pace with him for so much of the day.
That’s something the strongest field of the year couldn’t do.
Tyrrell Hatton birdied his last five holes for a 65, finishing when Scheffler was making the turn. Viktor Hovland (68) and Tom Hoge (70) were seven shots behind in a tie for third, each making nearly US$1.5-million from the US$25-million purse.
Scheffler, who finished at 17-under 271, became only the third player to win at the TPC Sawgrass with all four rounds in the 60s.
Min Woo Lee of Australia, making his Players Championship debut, briefly was tied for the lead but finished with a 76.
Lee made one too many blunders, not that it would have changed anything the way Scheffler lit up the TPC Sawgrass. One of them came on the par-four fourth, when Lee was tied for the lead. He chipped out of the rough only to have his third shot spin back into the water, leading to a triple bogey.
By the time he recovered, Scheffler was racing away.
It started when Scheffler chipped in from the collar of a bunker on the par-three eighth, and he closed out the front nine with an aggressive play on the par-five ninth that set up a chip-and-a-putt birdie.
Hatton teed off two hours ahead of Scheffler, and he capped off his closing run of five straight birdies as Scheffler headed for the back nine. Hatton, the first player to shoot 29 on the back nine at Sawgrass on a Sunday, posed at 12-under 276.
The wind was gusting close to 30 mph, which only adds to the trouble on this course. Scheffler stayed aggressive, though, holing an 18-foot birdie on the 10th, two-putting from 70 feet on the par-five 11th and taking on the reachable par-four 12th with a 3-wood to pin high just right of the green. That set up his fifth straight birdie, and a six-shot lead.
For the final two hours, it was a money grab for everyone else – and some wasted cash for those who fell victim to the wind and water and the cruel Players Stadium Course.
Hatton, who started the final round nine shots behind, finished off his five straight birdies with a 4-iron out of the pine straw and around the trees to 20 feet.
He won US$2,725,000 – just over US$1-million more than his Bay Hill victory in 2020.
Hideki Matsuyama was within one shot – this was before Scheffler went on his birdie run – only to take double bogey on the 14th, fail to birdie the par-five 16th and bogey the 18th. He was seven under for the round through 13 holes and had to settle for a 68.
The biggest meltdown belonged to PGA Tour rookie Taylor Montgomery, who was tied for fourth until a bogey on the 15th, a double bogey on No. 16 (without hitting in the water) and two balls in the water on the 17th – a full shot and a chip – for a quintuple-bogey seven.
He dropped 40 spots on the leaderboard, and at No. 55 in the world, that kept him from cracking the top 50 in the ranking and likely securing a spot in the Masters.
Ultimately, though, this was a one-man show.
Scheffler has been winning in bunches since he was a junior star in Dallas, and once he got going on the biggest stage, he hasn’t really stopped. This was his sixth win in the past 13 months, all of them against some of the strongest fields in golf.
The US$4.5-million pushed his season total to over US$10.4-million – the first major is still a month away – and brought his total to US$24.5-million in the past two seasons.
And that “algorithm” that Scheffler called the Official World Golf Ranking now has him at No. 1, and it’s tough to debate.
“He’s in a good position to be able to continue to do this a while,” Jordan Spieth said.