Players Championship analysis: 10 notes to know on Scottie Scheffler’s win

What many called a sleepy first nine weeks to the PGA Tour season got a stiff cup of coffee last week in Orlando. Then it went to Ponte Vedra Beach and chugged three energy drinks.

Three of the world’s best players — the reigning U.S. Open champion, reigning Open champion, and reigning Olympic gold medalist — all had birdie opportunities on the final hole to force a playoff. But all three missed, falling a single shot behind golf’s great inevitability, world number one Scottie Scheffler.

Here are the top numbers to know from the final round of the 50th Players Championship.

1. Scheffler closed with 64, tying the lowest final round ever shot by a winner at TPC Sawgrass. It matched the closing rounds of Fred Couples in 1996 and Davis Love III in 2003. Scheffler played the last 31 holes of the championship without a bogey, the longest closing streak without a dropped shot to win The Players Championship all-time. Scheffler diced apart the back nine all week, hitting 32 of 36 greens in regulation, with 16 of those approach shots being inside 20 feet of the hole.

Despite the neck injury that was visibly bothersome throughout the week, Scheffler’s ball-striking performance was second to none. Scheffler led the field in strokes gained tee-to-green for the second consecutive year at TPC Sawgrass, picking up nearly 16 strokes on the field in that statistic. Since strokes gained data first was tracked in 2003, Scheffler has the best (2023, +17.17) and third-best (2024, +15.88) tee-to-green performances by a Players champion.

2. Finally, The Players Championship has its first back-to-back winner in Scheffler. When the week started, no defending champion had ever finished in the top five at TPC Sawgrass since Hal Sutton in 2001. Previously, the best score by a defending champion at The Players was 10-under by Webb Simpson in 2019. Scheffler beat that by ten shots.

While The Players was the oldest tournament on the Tour’s schedule without a back-to-back champ, it was not the tournament with the longest repeat winner drought. The two active PGA Tour events with the longest active streaks without a player successfully defending are now known as the Charles Schwab Challenge (Ben Hogan, 1952-53) and the Wyndham Championship (Sam Snead, 1955-56). Or, Colonial and Greensboro, if you like.

3. For the second week in a row, Scheffler made the putts he had to in the final round. That hasn’t always been the case, even during his ascent to the top of the game. Entering last week, Scheffler averaged -0.16 strokes gained putting in the final round of PGA Tour events since 2022. After picking up more than six-tenths of a stroke on the greens Sunday, that average is +2.26 the last two Sundays.

Scheffler began the day five shots back, tying the largest final-round comeback to win at TPC Sawgrass. Both Justin Leonard in 1998 and Henrik Stenson 11 years later were five off the pace in their victories. He has won eight official PGA Tour events since the beginning of the 2022 season, three more than any other player.

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Wyndham Clark reacts to his missed putt on the 18th hole during the fourth and final round of The Players Championship. (Corey Perrine / Florida Times-Union)

4. Wyndham Clark was millimeters from forcing a playoff with the world number one, lipping out his birdie putt on 18. No player in the field made a putt at 18 Sunday longer than 16 feet. Clark’s was 17.

Clark led by four shots at the halfway point, marking the first time a player has led by four or more after two rounds at TPC Sawgrass and not won. There have been two players this season on the PGA Tour to lead by four shots or more after 36 holes, and neither has gone on to finish the job. Last month at Riviera, Patrick Cantlay led the Genesis Invitational by five. He wound up in a tie for fourth, four behind Hideki Matsuyama.

Clark also finished as runner-up a week ago in Orlando to Scheffler. It’s the first time in 64 years that a player has won in consecutive weeks on the PGA Tour with the same player finishing runner-up (or T-2) in both tournaments. In March of 1960, Arnold Palmer won the Baton Rouge Open Invitational and the Pensacola Open Invitational in back-to-back weeks. Doug Sanders finished runner-up in each.

5. Xander Schauffele also finished one behind, his 16th top-10 finish in the last two seasons on Tour, the most of any player without a win in that span. Schauffele, who had just one bogey or worse through 57 holes this week, carded three in the last 15, including two critical blemishes Sunday at 14 and 15. A one-shot lead was again a perilous position at Pete and Alice Dye’s place on Sunday: for the ninth consecutive time, a player leading by 1 stroke entering the final round of The Players did not go on to win.

Schauffele’s best chance to force a playoff came at 17, when he hit his approach inside 7 feet, but missed the putt. After gaining 3.36 strokes on the greens in a brilliant Saturday 65, the Olympic gold medalist lost nearly half a stroke in the final round.

6. With a Sunday 68, Brian Harman nearly fought his way into a playoff but wound up the third member of the runner-up trio. Harman dazzled with his irons all week, leading the field in strokes gained approach for just the third time in his PGA Tour career. Harman was vying to become the first reigning Open champion to win at TPC Sawgrass since Tiger Woods did it in 2001.

Like Clark, Harman had a 17-foot birdie opportunity from the front of the 18th green but missed the putt. This was Harman’s third top-five finish since his 6-stroke runaway at Royal Liverpool last summer.

7. With receptive greens and favorable weather conditions throughout, red numbers were to be had almost everywhere at TPC Sawgrass. Before this week, only two players in this championship’s history had finished the week at 19-under or better (four did that on Sunday). Two players — Matt Fitzpatrick and Sam Ryder — tied for the most birdies or better for the week, setting a new single-tournament record. The field totaled 1,769 birdies and eagles for the week, the second-most all-time and the most for a Players Championship held in March.

But in typical Dye fashion, disaster also lurked everywhere. Players combined to make 213 double bogeys or worse, the most for any PGA Tour field since last year’s Open Championship. The beautiful volatility of the Stadium Course delivered again.

8. No player was more emblematic of that this week than Rory McIlroy, who finished in a tie for 19th place despite making 26 birdies. Before McIlroy, the most birdies or better by a player to finish outside the top-15 at The Players Championship was 24 by Rafa Cabrera Bello six years ago.

Rory had three double bogeys for the week, bringing his season total of doubles or worse to an unsightly nine. He had only seven holes of double bogey or worse in the entire 2023 PGA Tour season.

9. The screws got severely tightened Sunday at 17, with the famed hole playing as the toughest on the golf course in the final round. The leap from a 2.84 field scoring average there on Saturday to 3.34 in round four represented the second-highest such increase in Players Championship history. There were a mere four birdies made Sunday on the 17th, the fewest in any round since 2006 and the fewest ever in a final round.

10. Scheffler will likely be a significant betting favorite next month at Augusta National, seeking his second green jacket in three years. Since his breakthrough win at the 2022 WM Phoenix Open, Scheffler leads the Tour in wins, top-10 finishes, strokes gained total, scoring average, greens in regulation and strokes gained approach. The idea of an even average-putting Scheffler presents the possibility of a historic season ahead.

Next month, not only will Scheffler’s PGA Tour cohorts be trying to slow his momentum, but many of LIV Golf’s best — including defending champion Jon Rahm — will be there to do the same.

The opening round of the Masters is less than 30 days away.

(Top photo: Jared C. Tilton / Getty Images)

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