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After playing through neck pain, authors historic final-round 64

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Scottie Scheffler was on the move, and the eight carts located around TPC Sawgrass’ practice putting green circled into formation behind him. He was headed to the range to keep loose as his final challengers played the course’s famed finishing hole, hoping for one last long-shot birdie to force a playoff with the tournament’s defending champion.

The ropes that keep spectators at bay had already been removed, so security scrambled to clear a path. Scheffler, with a wedge in hand, looked up when groans arose in the distance. They signified that one threat had been placated. He kept walking to the far end of the range, trying to in vain to find a quiet place to spend the final moments of THE PLAYERS Championship and prepare for a potential playoff.

Fifteen people quickly gathered behind him, however, including several cameramen, and another two dozen fans crowded behind the chest-high steel barricade guarding the practice area. Scheffler took one brief look at his phone before pulling a ball out of the bag and striking a shot with his wedge. He hit a handful of balls, fittingly flushing one last one before another far-off reaction let Scheffler know that the title was his. He and caddie Ted Scott turned to the crowd for confirmation. One bystander waved his hand across his throat.

Scheffler bent over at the waist and put his hands on his knees as NBC’s Smylie Kaufman waited to conduct the winner’s interview for the broadcast.

“I put up a good fight for four days,” Scheffler said. “That’s really all there was.”

If Scheffler looked unbeatable a week earlier, when he seemingly solved his putting struggles and cruised to a five-shot victory at the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard, his performance at THE PLAYERS took his appearance of invincibility to another level.

He won one of golf’s biggest prizes, on one of its most penal courses, despite being hampered by a neck injury for much of the week. His swing speed was sapped, and he had limited ability to rotate freely through the ball. He was forced to rely on his hands, notoriously the least reliable body part for controlling a club travelling in excess of 100 mph. With his body not operating at its full potential, this win was a testament to Scheffler’s toughness, his athleticism and his creativity.

Despite the injury, Scheffler authored an unprecedented performance in the 50-year history of THE PLAYERS. Not only did he finish atop a leaderboard containing many of the best players in the world, but Scheffler tied tournament records by shooting 64 on Sunday to overcome a five-shot deficit. He equaled the lowest final round by a PLAYERS winner and the largest fourth-round comeback at TPC Sawgrass. That allowed him to become the tournament’s first back-to-back winner in five decades.

The neck injury that arrived unexpectedly early in his second round made it painful even to hit chip shots. It was on his third hole Friday morning that he called over a PGA TOUR rules official to ask about receiving medical care on the course. Hitting a 90-yard wedge shot on that hole was so painful that he questioned whether he could continue.

“I didn’t really know if I was going to be able to swing,” he said. He received on-course massage and manipulation from physiotherapist Marnus Marais before hitting his tee shots on the 14th, 15th and 16th holes, and immediately after completing his second round.

Ted Scott, Scheffler’s caddie, told his wife that he was uncertain if Scheffler could complete the tournament.

“It was kind of miraculous that he could even get it around,” said Scott. “It just shows you what tenacity, resilience, whatever fancy words that you want to use to describe Scottie Scheffler.”

Scheffler had to take extra club on his approach shots because he couldn’t swing at full speed, and his average driving distance dropped more than 20 yards between the first and second rounds. Scheffler said he was resigned to “slapping it around” in the second and third rounds. He was hit by a wave of pain each time he took the club back.

And yet, an injured Scheffler was still the best ball-striker at TPC Sawgrass. He led the field in Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green, SG: Off-the-Tee and Driving Accuracy, while also ranking in the top 10 of Greens in Regulation (T3) and SG: Approach-the-Green (7th).

“He was getting frustrated. He couldn’t hit the shots that he wanted to hit,” Scott said. “So that goes to show you how tough he is. He couldn’t move. He was hurting. He was in pain.”

Randy Smith, Scheffler’s longtime swing coach, watched the win from afar after leaving TPC Sawgrass earlier in the week. He saw the same tenacity that Scheffler has displayed since he was 7 years old.

“He just wanted to wear you out,” Smith said. “You call it a will to win … but he tends to take it a little bit further than most players I’ve seen.”

This latest victory was reminiscent of Scheffler’s high school days, when he won a Texas state championship while wearing a walking boot. He also played basketball so selflessly and wholeheartedly at Highland Park that the Scots’ basketball coach, David Piehler, had to temper Scheffler’s eagerness to take a charge in order to help the team.

“I had to pull him aside a few times and say, ‘If you see a big guy coming down the lane, you step aside,’” Piehler said. “He was unconcerned with his well-being. … My biggest fear was that he’d jeopardize his golf career.”

This result at TPC Sawgrass seemed inevitable, but Scheffler took an unexpected route to victory. After cruising to a five-shot win the previous week at Bay Hill, Scheffler shot a first-round 67 at TPC Sawgrass. When he birdied his first hole Friday, he seemed unstoppable. Then his neck pain began, and the week took a turn.

“Looking up to see the line on my putt was pretty difficult,” Scheffler said. “It was hard to hit putts because right when I turned my head to look at the hole my brain’s sending pain signals … to my brain. It’s not easy to focus on making a putt when you’re in pain.

“I figured as long as I could get through the round on Friday, Marnus did a good job kind of getting me going for Saturday. I felt a little bit better, like I said, and then Sunday, today, I felt pretty good overall.”

Three consecutive birdies to close his third round put Scheffler within striking distance, five shots behind leader Xander Schauffele. Scheffler parred his first three holes Sunday before holing out from 92 yards for eagle on No. 4. He birdied the next hole, as well, and closed his front nine with two more. He missed a 12-footer for birdie on No. 10 but added another pair of birdies on the next two holes.

Wyndham Clark, who played alongside Schauffele in Sunday’s final group, said he laughed when he looked at a leaderboard for the first time on the back nine and saw Scheffler’s name on top.

“I said, ‘Yeah, of course.’ I mean, he’s the best player in the world,” said Clark, the reigning U.S. Open champion who won earlier this year at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am.

Scheffler’s birdie at 12 tied him with Schauffele for the lead at 19-under par. Scheffler made just one more birdie – getting up and down from a bunker on the par-5 16th – but it proved to be enough after Schauffele, Brian Harman and Wyndham Clark missed their opportunities to tie on the closing holes.

That trio tied for second at 19-under par, one shot behind Scheffler.

“It’s just another week,” said Schauffele, a reference to Scheffler’s continued success.

The victory is Scheffler’s eighth in the past 25 months, a haul that includes the Masters and two PLAYERS titles. He has been the No. 1 player in the world for the majority of that span and is the first player since Tiger Woods to win the PGA TOUR’s Player of the Year Award in consecutive seasons.

Scheffler has finished in the top 10 in nearly two-thirds of his tournaments since the start of the 2022 season (34 of 55, 62%). Last year, his 17 top-10s were the most on TOUR since Vijay Singh in 2005. And he’s been outside the top-10 just once in seven starts in 2024, including these back-to-back wins. The only hardship Scheffler has seemed to suffer on the course in that span were the putting struggles that hampered him last year. But he enlisted noted putting instructor Phil Kenyon last fall and switched to a mallet putter last week at Bay Hill. He also gained strokes on the green (+1.25) this week, but this victory isn’t about the numbers.

“He played with what he had,” said Smith, “and he knows he didn’t have anything but his hands and his creativity to get through it.”

Those hands were on display one last time at TPC Sawgrass when Scheffler first saw his wife, Meredith, after his victory was official. He raised his arms straight in the air as he rode in the passenger seat of a golf cart. Meredith, who is due with the couple’s first child next month, ran toward her husband in a scene that has become rather familiar over the past two years.

The Schefflers have a lot to celebrate, and more to come.