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

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — The roar could be heard from a half-mile away just 16 minutes after the final group set out Sunday in the final round of The Players Championship. It was loud enough to indicate something special had happened. The question was more “what” than “who.”

Moments later, Scottie Scheffler’s name appeared on the leaderboard, and he was on his way, adding another layer to his legend as the best in golf.

His 8-under 64 tied the Players Championship record for best Sunday score by a winner. His five-shot comeback matched another tournament record. And he now stands alone as the only back-to-back champion in 50 years of the PGA Tour’s premier championship.

“It’s tough enough to win one Players,” said Scheffler, who was coming off a five-shot victory last week at Bay Hill. “So to have it back-to-back is extremely special. Yeah, really thankful.”

For those trying to beat him, it was no surprise, even with Scheffler starting five shots behind.

“Just another week,” Xander Schauffele said when he saw that Scheffler had joined the chase.

Wyndham Clark didn’t see a leaderboard until No. 11 and Scheffler was tied for the lead.

“And I kind of chuckled and I said, ‘Yeah, of course.’ I mean, he’s the best player in the world,” Clark said.

Scheffler holed out for eagle from the fourth fairway — that was the enormous cheer — had four birdies in a five-hole stretch around the turn and had so much control of his game that he played the final 31 holes on the scary TPC Sawgrass without a bogey.

  It added to a one-shot victory that came down to the very last putt.

Schauffele, Clark and Brian Harman 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.”

Schauffele missed an eagle putt from 25 feet on the par-5 16th and a birdie putt from 6 feet on the island-green 17th. His approach from the pine straw on the 18th went long and his chances were gone. Harman missed a birdie putt on the 18th from about 18 feet.

They tied for second and each earned just short of $1.9 million from the $25 million purse, the largest in golf.

Scheffler finished at 20-under 268 and picked up $4.5 million for his ninth win worldwide, pushing him over $50 million for his career. And to think it was only two years and one month ago that he was still searching for his first win.

This was no ordinary week.

Scheffler felt a sharp pain in his neck early in the second round that required treatment as he played three holes. It turn to take the club back, and he said he might have withdrawn except that he was in the mix and hates to walk away from a fight.

He was eight shots behind late Saturday when he finished with three straight birdies to at least give himself hope.

“Then today I woke up feeling fairly close to normal,” Scheffler said, still wearing a few strips of black kinesiology tape on his neck. “I went out there and had a good round of golf.”

He is understated in speech only. The golf is simply sublime.

Scheffler delivered a masterpiece on the Players Stadium Course, where so much can go round without warning. His 64 matched the low round by a Players champion, last done by Davis Love III in 2003. He tied Justin Leonard (1998) with the five-shot comeback.

“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.”

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 6-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 the fairway on the par-5 16th and had to two-putt from 50 feet just to make par.

Clark also made late push. He narrowly missed a 12-foot eagle putt on the 16th. He rode the slope to 4 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 has a week off before the Houston Open, with the Masters a month away. His wife is expecting their first child at the end of April. It’s already shaping up to be a big year.

And to think it was only 13 days ago that Scheffler was at the TPC Sawgrass doing video spots to relive what had been his last official PGA Tour win. He couldn’t escape questions about his putting. There were rumblings the world ranking was just a number.

Two weeks later, he looks good as ever.