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Scottie Scheffler Puts On A Playing-With-The-Lead Clinic, Wins The Players Championship By 5 Shots

Sam Greenwood. Getty Images.

Junior golfers interested in the ancient art of closing out golf tournaments should consider it required viewing. Scottie Scheffler's three-under 69 won't jump out of the record books in 20 years, but that's not the type of round Sunday at the Players called for. The wind had returned to TPC Sawgrass for a grand finale after a brief Saturday respite. The breeze got the better of most—Min Woo Lee combusted with a triple-bogey 7 at 4, Hideki Matsuayama's charge expired with a double at 14, and don't get us started on Taylor Montgomery—but not of Scottie, who's making a habit of this winning thing. 

Scheffler put on a playing-with-the-lead clinic on Sunday, playing fearlessly off the tee—at least by conventional standards, as Paul Azinger made sure viewers know, and especially compared to Lee's iron-heavy strategy—wearing out the center of greens and overcoming a shaky start for a comfortable five-shot victory at the Players Championship. An historically good ball striking week gave him a comfortable victory despite gaining just one-tenth of a stroke on the field with his putting. 

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"Long day, tough day," Scheffler said, $4.5 million richer than he was on Thursday. "I knew the conditions were going to get really hard late and I did a really good job of staying patient, not trying to force things, and then I got hot kind of in the middle of the round and, yeah, tried to put things away as quickly as I could."

With the win, his sixth since his breaking through for his first just 13 months ago and his second designated event of 2023, Scheffler leapfrogs Jon Rahm to reclaim a world No. 1 ranking that continues to swap owners almost weekly. Those two have emerged as clear 1A and 1B in world golf with Scheffler's title defense at Augusta National less than a month away.

Scheffler began the day with a two-shot lead over Lee, a hugely talented 24-year-old with a proven track record in Europe. This would be Lee's first time trying to close out an elite-field tournament on this side of the pond, and he got off to the perfect start by playing the first three holes in one under. A bogey from Scheffler at the par-3 3rd gave Lee a share of the lead at 13 under. That's when their paths diverged. Lee played first and went with a long iron, a strategy he leaned on all weekend long. Lee can carry that shot about 270 yards, sure, but his unwillingness to pull driver—he hit just two all day—put him at a disadvantage against Scheffler, who whaled away with impunity. Lee's tee shot on 4 squirted right into juicy rough, forcing a layup. Scheffler, too, missed the fairway, but because he mashed driver he was 40 yards closer than Lee. Scheffler muscled his second onto the green before Lee fatted his into the piss. A three-shot swing gave Scheffler the solo lead, and he never looked remotely close to losing it. 

"It happened really quick," Lee said of his unraveling. "It's one of those things where it's Sunday and you just make a couple bad decisions and it all kind of falls down. But I hung in there pretty well. I didn't have it all today. It's funny how yesterday I felt like I had the best swing in the world, and then today I just felt like nothing could go right. So nice finish and I'm pretty proud of the result and I think it will take me a long way. It could have been a lot worse. That's for sure. It wasn't easy. That's part of it."

A number of players flirted with making a proper charge. Matsuyama got to 10 under before that double at 14 torpedoed his chances. Cam Davis hung tough and reached 11 under before playing his final five holes in three over. Max Homa saw his chances die at the island-green 17th, which grew increasingly treacherous as the afternoon wore on. He made double to drop from 10 under to 8 under. So did Justin Rose. Sungjae Im three-putted from the top perch. Tyrrell Hatton, however, had no such issues—he birdied each of his last five holes for a 65 that nabbed solo second and its $2.7 million paycheck. He equaled TPC Sawgrass' back-nine scoring record with a seven-under 29. 

The famously difficult-to-please Brit gave the course a rare stamp of approval: "It sounds horrible to say something positive, I guess," he said, "but it's one of my favorite golf courses."

"I mean, considering where I was at the start of the back nine, I was probably tied 34th or something like that, so if you had said that you would finish second in the tournament or tied second and you don't have to play the back nine, I think you would take that.

He'll feel like the winner of the tournament-within-the-tournament. Scheffler took this tournament by the throat with five consecutive birdies of his own, beginning with a chip-in birdie at the par-3 8th and ending with a stress-free birdie at the drivable par-4 12th. 

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The only task left was keeping his golf ball dry, no sure-thing given the swirling winds on 17. The twosome ahead, Cameron Davis and Tommy Fleetwood, both rinsed their tee shots. But Scheffler floated a no-nonsense gap wedge onto the 17th green that freed him up to enjoy the stroll to glory. 

"I hit it just how I wanted to, and I was super relieved to see it finish on the green. You're not in control of what the ball does on the green, you can only hit the shot." 

A deep Scheffler crew, including his 88-year-old grandmother, walked all 18 to watch their Scottie do what he does better than anyone else on the planet. 

"Gosh, I don't know what to say," Scheffler said. My dad's staring at me making it so much harder. Yeah, it's pretty special. They haven't been able to come out in a while. We got a newborn nephew who is about nine months old, so he's doing well. He's out here somewhere, I think. He's around. He's probably asleep. But it's been a lot of fun to have the whole family out this week and we're going to really celebrate."