Scottie Scheffler on top of golf world after dominant Players Championship win
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — Scottie Scheffler was going to win the golf tournament.
No drama remained in this 49th Players Championship. Scheffler, like a surgeon, had drained every ounce of drama out of the final round before he made the turn. The thing was all over but the trophy ceremony and the $4.5 million winner’s check being handed to him.
Yet there Scheffler was standing in the middle of the 18th fairway alongside his caddie Ted Scott holding a five-shot lead and he was still as stone-faced as he’d been all day around TPC Sawgrass.
It wasn’t until Scheffler, who had to punch out from the pine straw to the fairway after an errant drive on the last, hit his third shot onto the 18th green that he exhaled. He took his hat off, crouched over and had some words with Scott, smiling for the first time all day.
“Let’s win this thing by five,’’ Scheffler told Scott.
So, he did.
Scheffler calmly got up-and-down from the fairway for par and finished 17-under par, five shots clear of runner-up Tyrrell Hatton and seven-shots better than Viktor Hovland and Tom Hoge. His 3-under-par 69 bettered his final-round playing partner, Min Woo Lee, by seven shots.
It’s been 392 days since Scheffler broke through for his first PGA Tour victory, at the 2022 Waste Management Phoenix Open. Sunday marked his sixth win in that dizzying span, last April’s Masters being one of them.
Not only did the win elevate Scheffler back to No. 1 in the world rankings, but he now owns the impressive distinction as only one of three players to hold a Masters green jacket and a Players Championship title at the same time.
The other two?
Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods.
“He’s had an amazing 15-month stretch of golf,’’ Hatton said. “He’s very impressive, incredibly consistent. [I] played with him last Sunday [at Bay Hill] and it was clear like he didn’t have his best that day, but he still hung around and had a chance there right at the end (Scheffler finished tied for fourth). It’s a pretty tough thing to do to be up there when you don’t have your best golf and still give yourself a chance to win.’’
Scheffler on Sunday made his move on Lee and the rest of the field, separating himself when he chipped in for birdie on No. 8 to move to 14-under par, good for a four-shot lead at the moment.
He has a running bet with Scott for an undisclosed sum of cash on how many chip-ins he’ll have this year. The agreed-upon number was 10. Scheffler’s chip-in on No. 8 on Sunday was his 11th already.
And it’s only March.
“I think he chipped in three times this week and when he got his 11th, he was like, ‘Do I get a bonus for this?’ ’’ Scott said. “I’m like, ‘No, you are. You met your quota.’ ’’
It was a chip-in on the third hole at Augusta last April that propelled Scheffler to win his first career major championship.
“It definitely got me going,’’ Scheffler said. “I played great after that. It definitely kick-started me a little bit. I mean, this chip-in was a little bit easier than the one at Augusta.’’
Jordan Spieth, one of the game’s best short-game wizards, said, “He’s got great hands. He’s got every shot. I think that Teddy made a very bad bet. I think Teddy will probably reevaluate considering we’re not even midway through March.’’
Scheffler, who’s remarkably unaffected by any and all chaos around him, has the perfect disposition to handle what he went through Sunday and to handle the No. 1 ranking. As the decibels rise, he’ll carry on as he always does — unaffected.
“He’s obviously used to being in this position now, he’s done it so many times already,’’ Aussie Cam Davis, who finished tied for sixth, said. “I think he’s just got the attitude for it. It just looks like he’s calm, just doing his business, not really worrying what everyone else is doing and churning out birdies, which is what you need to do out here.
“Obviously, he’s got his system down and figured out and I think the closer everyone else can get to finding theirs and sticking to it regardless of what’s going on the better chance we’ll have of keeping up with him.’’
Perhaps the only thing that was more impressive than what Scheffler did on the golf course Sunday was the fact that his 87-year-old grandmother, Mary DeLorenzo, kept up with him walking the golf course with a walker.
“I mean, it’s pretty impressive she’s walking so many holes out here,’’ Scheffler said. “She’s a trooper. I really don’t know what to say. She’s had a rough last year with Grandpa passing away, and we have an uncle that’s pretty sick. I’m just happy that we’re able to kind of enjoy all this together.’’
Wild finish as 30-year-old underdog stuns McIlroy in maiden PGA win
30-year-old Kurt Kitayama has claimed his first-ever PGA Tour win with a stunning victory at the $20m USD Arnold Palmer Invitational, beating Rory McIlroy by one shot in a stunning boilover.
Kitayama turned professional in 2015, but in his 50th tournament the American finally claimed his maiden victory in sensational fashion, with a host of the world’s top players breathing down his neck throughout the final round.
A clutch 14-foot birdie putt on 17 gave him a one-shot lead entering the final hole at Bay Hill Club and Lodge in Orlando Florida.
From 191 yards in the rough, Kitayama landed a sensational approach shot onto the green.
He only needed to two-putt for victory, but his 47-foot attempt was almost perfectly struck – ending up teetering on the edge of the cup.
Even McIlroy was left in disbelief as he watched on, shaking his head that the ball didn’t fall.
Remarkably, Kitayama had suffered a triple bogey on the ninth hole while leading, before fighting back to win, making him the first player since 1983 to win despite a triple bogey or worse in the final round.
His even-par final round saw him finish nine-under overall.
The victory earns him $3.6m USD, nearly as much as his previous career earnings of $4,194,548 USD. It also rockets him up 33 spots on the FedExCup hunt into sixth place ahead of the Players Championship this week.
Harris English was tied with McIlroy one shot back on eight under, with world number two and defending champion Scottie Scheffler, 2020 champion Tyrrell Hatton, Jordan Spieth, and Patrick Cantlay all one shot further back. Australia’s Jason Day was equal tenth on five under overall.
“It was really hard. I’m going to sleep really well tonight. It’s everything I kind of mentally prepared myself for,” said Kitayama.
“I’ve always dreamed of winning on the Tour and to finally do it, it’s pretty amazing.”
McIlroy said: “Disappointment, obviously. I feel like I gave myself a great chance … It was a battle all day, I felt like I hung in there really well but just came up one short.”
Chris Kirk wins Honda Classic in playoff; 1st title since 2015
PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. -- Chris Kirk waited nearly eight years to win a PGA Tour event again. Waiting one more hole on Sunday was no problem.
Kirk stuck his approach to the par-5 18th to tap-in range, and his birdie on the first hole of a playoff lifted him past Eric Cole for the victory at the Honda Classic on Sunday.
Cole had a chance, playing his third shot from the sand to just outside of 10 feet for a birdie that would have extended the playoff. But it lipped out, and Kirk nudged his ball in for his fifth career win -- his first since prevailing at Colonial in 2015.
"I was obviously very, very nervous today having not won in so long," Kirk said. "Coming down the stretch, I felt good."
And he'll be the last Honda winner. The car company is ending its title sponsorship of the event after 42 years, with a new sponsor set to be in place -- the PGA Tour hopes, anyway -- in the coming weeks.
They finished 72 holes tied at 14-under 266, Kirk shooting 69 on Sunday, Cole shooting 67.
Kirk earned $1,512,000 for the win, and is now eligible to play the Masters again for the first time since 2016. Cole earned $915,600 for the runner-up finish, a check that more than doubles what the 34-year-old has earned in 14 previous tour starts.
"I loved it. It was a lot of fun," Cole said. "I can't wait to get back and do it again. I didn't have my best stuff today, and I was proud of how hard I fought."
Kirk went to the par-5 18th with a one-shot lead. His tee shot found the fairway. His second shot found the water, leading to bogey. Cole made par, giving Kirk new life in the playoff.
"Bad swing at the wrong time. ... Thank God it worked out," Kirk said.
Kirk hadn't held a trophy since 2015. That's not to say he hasn't done any winning in that span.
He walked away from the game in May 2019 because of alcoholism and depression. He dealt with anxiety and struggled with handling pressure, even though he had a penchant for making it seem like no big deal on the golf course -- he was a four-time winner, plus made a big putt to help the U.S. win the Presidents Cup at South Korea in 2015.
The tour gave him a major medical extension for the time he missed, meaning he had a set number of tournaments to do well enough to regain his full status. He got it back by the slimmest of margins at the Sony Open in 2021.
And now he's a champion again.
"I just have so much to be thankful for," Kirk said. "I'm so grateful for my sobriety, I'm so grateful for my family, I'm so grateful for everyone that has supported throughout the past three or four years."
Tyler Duncan, ranked No. 360 in the world coming into the week, shot 66 on Sunday and was third at 12 under. Monday qualifier Ryan Gerard, playing the weekend for the first time on the PGA Tour, shot 67 and finished fourth at 10 under.
Gerard's career earnings on tour went from $0 to $411,600. His plans for the next few weeks might be changing based on this finish.
"I've got to go book some flights and hotel rooms, swipe the credit card," said Gerard, who came into the week ranked 472nd in the world. "We'll see what happens."
Defending champion Sepp Straka (68) was in a group tied for ninth at 9 under, with all four of his rounds in the 60's. Also in that group: Shane Lowry, who had a chance to win the Honda last year and finished with an even-par 70.
"I played lovely, and I just couldn't get it going," Lowry said.
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