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World No. 1 Scottie Scheffler became the first golfer in history to defend his title at The Players Championship by shooting -20 to finish one stroke above Xander Schauffele, Wyndham Clark, and Brian Harman (who all ended the tournament at -19).

Scottie Scheffler defied the odds in a couple of ways. Prior to this year, no one had ever been a back-to-back winner at The Players Championship. Tiger Woods was also the last golfer to win the “fifth major” after securing a victory the previous week in 2001, but Scheffler did exactly that after topping the field at the Arnold Palmer Invitational before heading to TPC Sawgrass. 

The best player in the world cemented that status by not recording a single bogey on his final 31 holes (a tournament record) and carding the lowest final-round score for a winner at 64. He also did it while battling neck pain, noting, “I was already happy to be in the running after three rounds, given my physical problems. I didn’t want to give up, especially when I was in such a good position. I was already feeling better on Saturday and this Sunday I was doing really well. I kept moving forward, feeling better and better as the tournament went on. I’m aware that I’m the first person to retain my title here. Winning once is already huge at the Players. But two in a row is really something. But two in a row is really extraordinary, especially for the 50th edition.” Scheffler now had eight wins on the PGA Tour in the last 26 months. 

A four-way match

The final round quickly turned into a four-way tie. Clearly pain-free, Scheffler started like a defending champion, refusing to relinquish his title. He had an eagle on 4 with a 50-yard chip and birdies on 5, 8, 9, and 11, putting him level on points with Wyndham Clark and Brian Harman (-17), just behind Xander Schauffele (-18), who were then closing the gap. Despite a superb card from Si Woo Kim (64), who was soon in the clubhouse (-15), the rest of the field seemed to have stalled.

Then Clark dropped a short putt on 10 for par (quickly made up on 11), while Scheffler made another birdie on 12 to join Schauffele in the lead before. Schauffele moved back into the lead on 11 before stalling on 14  by leaving a putt too short, which let Scheffler take over. Harma had a birdie on 15 to join the party, while Clark stalled. 

Schauffele continued to fall (bogey on 16), while Scheffler just missed a birdie on 18. Despite this, Scheffler found himself back in the clubhouse with a one-shot lead over Harman (who had two holes to play) and two over Schauffele (three holes to play). A three-way match? Certainly not. Clark bounced back with birdies on 16 and 17 to find himself, like Schauffele, one shot behind the leader before the par 4 18th. It felt like a playoff was in the works. Unfortunately, Clark’s putt cruelly lipped out as Schauffele missed the hole by a couple of inches. Clark would have a hard time getting over it, saying “I don’t know how that putt didn’t go in.”

Despite 26 birdies in four rounds, Rory McIlroy struggled to crack the top 20. However, he said, “I feel I’ve made progress over the last few weeks and I obviously had big ambitions after the first round. But I’ll keep in mind that my iron game is improving, which is reassuring for the future.”

This post is originally from L’Équipe