Scheffler repeats at Players after Clark lip-out on 18

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — In the first 49 years of the Players Championship, there had never been a repeat winner.

Jack Nicklaus couldn’t do it (three times). Neither could Fred Couples (twice), Davis Love III (twice), Tiger Woods (twice) and so many others.

On Sunday, world No. 1 Scottie Scheffler became the first back-to-back Players winner in the 50th edition of the “fifth major” at TPC Sawgrass, chasing down Xander Schauffele from 5 strokes back at the start of the final round to win with a 72-hole total of 20 under.

“It’s tough enough to win one Players,” said Scheffler, who closed with an 8-under 64. “So to have it back-to-back is extremely special. Yeah, really thankful.”

With the two most recent major championship winners, Brian Harman (The Open) and Wyndham Clark (U.S. Open), and the world’s sixth-ranked golfer, Schauffele, chasing him, Scheffler could only watch from the driving range as the trio tried to make one more birdie to force a playoff.

Scheffler’s second victory in as many weeks wasn’t secured until Clark, after he birdied the iconic 17th hole to move to 1 back, watched his 17-foot birdie try on the difficult 18th cruelly catch the left lip and spin out for par.

“I was out on the range,” Scheffler said. “I was listening to the crowd noise. I heard a groan, and so it sounded like a missed putt.”

Clark, who had a 4-shot lead after 36 holes, said he was “gutted” the attempt didn’t fall.

“I don’t know how that putt doesn’t go in,” Clark said. “It was kind of right-center 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.”

Scheffler became only the fourth Players winner to shoot 65 or better in the final round, joining Nicklaus (65 in 1976), Couples (64 in 1996) and Love (64 in 2003).

Harman, Schauffele and Clark tied for second at 19 under. Former Open Championship winner Matt Fitzpatrick was fifth at 16 under, birdieing his final four holes.

Scheffler matched the largest comeback by a Players Championship winner at TPC Sawgrass; Justin Leonard and Henrik Stenson also came from 5 behind in the final round in 1998 and 2009, respectively. Scheffler didn’t make a bogey over his final 31 holes.

Scheffler was plagued by a neck injury in the second and third rounds, but battled through the pain Saturday to post birdies on four of his last five holes to stay in the hunt.

“I said before when you get an acute injury like that, if you can wake up the next day feeling a little bit better or the exact same, it’s a win,” Scheffler said. “Usually the morning after is worse the following day. Woke up Saturday feeling a little bit better, was able to hit some shots yesterday but not many. Then today I woke up feeling fairly close to normal. I went out there and had a good round of golf.”

After putting himself back into striking position, Scheffler said a “hot day [Sunday] could go a long way.”

He was indeed hot over the final 18 holes. After posting pars on his first three holes, he jump-started his round by carding a hole-out eagle on the par-4 fourth from 92 yards away to move to 14 under. He followed that with an 18-foot putt for birdie on No. 5 and birdie putts of 16 feet and 11 feet on Nos. 8 and 9, respectively.

Scheffler, a former Masters champion, grabbed a share of the lead at 19 under with back-to-back birdies on Nos. 11 and 12. He squandered a chance to take the solo lead when he missed a 5-foot birdie putt on No. 13, his only miss inside 5 feet the entire tournament.

Clark said he looked at a scoreboard for the first time at 11.

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

When Schauffele saw Scheffler near the top, he thought, “It’s just another week.”

After falling 1 behind Schauffele, Scheffler tied him again at 20 under on the par-5 16th. After hitting his approach shot into the small greenside pot bunker, Scheffler chipped out to 1 foot and tapped in for birdie. By then, Schauffele had posted back-to-back bogeys, Clark had fallen back and Harman was running out of holes.

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