THE PLAYERS Championship: PGA Tour’s Major Exceeds Expectations in 50th Year

Many have looked down their noses at The Players over the years because it wasn’t created by one of the other golf associations, but if Scottie Scheffler showed anything, it’s that this championship, the PGA Tour’s major, created by the golf organization of ninety-nine-point-nine percent of the best players in the world, is every bit as equal as the rest.
THE PLAYERS Championship - Final Round  Scottie Scheffler with Commissioner Jay Monahan(L), Former Commissioners Tim Finchem ( Center) and Deane Beman (R), the man who invented The Players and the idea for TPC Sawgrass.
THE PLAYERS Championship - Final Round Scottie Scheffler with Commissioner Jay Monahan(L), Former Commissioners Tim Finchem ( Center) and Deane Beman (R), the man who invented The Players and the idea for TPC Sawgrass. / Kevin C. Cox/GettyImages

In winning, he created a new standard for champions. He did something even Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus haven’t done, although he didn’t say that was a goal. He won back-to-back at The Players, and he did it with intention. It’s apparent in his words.

“Today was another battle, hard-fought week,” Scheffler said after his victory. “A lot of guys played some really good golf this week. A few of them finished at 19. I finished at 20.”

That’s about as much braggadocio as Scheffler has. Mentioning the scores.

Only golfers serious about winning are champions at TPC Sawgrass. Most of them have been too tired at the end to boast about it. That’s because TPC Sawgrass, with its island green and pot bunkers and tree-lined fairways, miles of water, and angled, grassy slopes wears them out. It taxes the brain and stresses the tendons and muscles.  It’s a mental test and a physical one for anyone who dares to play it.   

In this instance, there was something more thrown in. On Friday, Scheffler experienced a pain in his neck every time he completed a swing or looked at a putt.

“I think I was 2-under through 4 on Friday, so I was right in the thick of the tournament,” he explained. “All of a sudden I get that pinch in my neck, and I gutted it out around there, getting it around in a few under par, keeping myself in the tournament.”

So serious was his desire to win that he asked for medical treatment during the round, which he was allowed to have, and then he played the rest of that day through it.

“I didn't really know if I was going to be able to swing. Basically, looking up to see the line on my putt was pretty difficult,” he noted.

He expected it to be worse on Saturday than Friday, but it was better, which he said was a good sign. By Sunday, he said he was close to normal. Not normal, but close.

The trouble, apparently, was in the fascia, which is connective tissue that surrounds muscles and blood vessels and bones and nerves in the body. When it gets cranky, it hurts. 

After winning, he said, “I felt like, if I could shoot a low round on the front nine and put myself back right into the tournament, that was really my goal.”

He was hoping for some early birdies because he was a few shots behind.

“The hole-out really got me going there on No. 4,” he added.

(It was a sign. He might be being singled out by the golf gods, whoever and whatever they are -- nobody knows for sure, but everybody who plays golf knows they are real.)    

He hoped that the competition didn’t shoot 4- or 5-under on the front, and they didn’t. When Scheffler made birdie on the 9th, it put him in a good position. 

“I was right in the tournament the whole back nine,” he said firmly.

Finally, there’s the ability to close out a tournament when the opportunity presents itself, and Scheffler is definitely what anyone would call a closer. He’s a Jack Nicklaus type. He hangs around and hangs around and sees the opportunity to make birdie or an important par, and he does it. And just keeps doing it when others stall.

Scheffler wears others out because they know he’s not going to quit.  

When Scheffler got to 20-under par and three other players were at 19-under par, the 19-unders had to make birdies to catch or pass him. Unfortunately, the three at 19-under were under a lot of stress trying to do that, and they were facing some of the most dangerous golf holes ever invented, the 14th through the 18th at TPC Sawgrass.

Most people talk about the last three holes, and those are ultra treacherous, but the 14th and 15th, are two tough par fours that remind golfers just how hard it’s going to be to finish off the tournament.  They finish those two, and then, exhausted mentally, they face the 16th, 17th, and 18th, which have so much water fronting them that they are gut-wrenching to play.  

Birdies and eagles are not uncommon on the 16th, and that’s where Scheffler got to 20-under, and it was posted for the rest to look at. 

Brian Harman birdied the 15th to get to 19-under but the last two holes are very hard birdies.

Although Xander Schauffele did birdie 16, he had made bogey at both the 14th and 15th. Without those bogeys, he would probably be the winner.  

Wyndham Clark had gotten himself into such a situation that he needed to birdie the 16th, 17th, and 18th to tie. He got two of them but couldn’t get the last one, and he was robbed by a very serious lip out on his final stroke. It was criminal, really.  

So, Scottie Scheffler not only won two tournaments in a row at two very tough courses, he became the only PGA Tour player in history to win back-to-back at The Players. His final round score was a 64. He called it fun.

“Mentally it can be very taxing. Physically it's fairly taxing, as well, but mentally it's a lot of fun being in the final groups, but it also takes a toll on your body and your mind,” Scheffler explained. “But that's the most fun. It's the most fun you can have on a golf course I think is being in contention.”

The U.S. Open, the Masters, the British Open, and the PGA Championship have all had back-to-back winners, but not The Players. Until Scottie Scheffler.

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The Players, 50 years strong, has stood the test of time. The very best golfers in their time have won it. Those who have any kind of flaw in their game or who make a big mistake at the wrong time, haven’t. 

It’s the PGA Tour’s Major Championship. It’s very hard to win, and until last Sunday it was impossible to win twice in a row.