PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. (AP)Scottie Scheffler finally won, and then he kept winning, and the question a year ago was when this incredible hot streak would finally cool.
Now comes another question: Did it ever?
Even with a green jacket that ended last year’s remarkable run – four victories in six starts, capped by a Masters so dominant he four-putted the last hole and still won by three shots – he reached the top so quickly that it was tougher to appreciate it than a slow, steady rise like Dustin Johnson or Rory McIlroy or Jon Rahm.
The Players Championship brings a different view of the No. 1 player in the world.
Scheffler is on another big run, this one getting far more attention.
He won the WM Phoenix Open for the second straight year on a Sunday that featured Rahm, Justin Thomas and Nick Taylor. He was one foot away from a close birdie chance on the 18th to tie for the lead at Bay Hill.
And then against the strongest field so far this year at the TPC Sawgrass, Scheffler seized control with a 65 on Saturday and really showed his mettle by turning The Players Championship into a runaway with a five-shot victory.
Of the final four groups, his 69 was the only score under par.
“I think the team around him and the way he’s wired … he’s extremely grounded,” Jordan Spieth said. “He’s got really good parents, great family structure. Randy Smith has been around for a long time – his coach – and he’s been with him forever. So I don’t see it changing. He’s in a good position to be able to continue to do this for awhile.”
Scheffler was easy to forget last year even while staying atop the world ranking from March to October because the Masters was his last win of the year. Easily overlooked was that he lost in a playoff at Colonial to a 45-foot putt by Sam Burns and was one putt away from a potential playoff at the U.S. Open.
More memorable was losing a six-shot lead in the final round of the Tour Championship at East Lake to McIlroy, which cost Scheffler the FedEx Cup.
“I had put myself in a position all year to where I had a chance to win the FedEx Cup, and I wasn’t able to get it done,” Scheffler said. “And by the time I got home, I was worn out. I was mentally, physically drained, emotionally drained.
“But the hard times make the good times that much sweeter.”
Now he has six wins in his last 27 starts, and 16 finishes in the top 10 during that span.
“His top 10s are off the charts,” Spieth said.
This stretch of golf could be traced to the Ryder Cup in the fall of 2021 at Whistling Straits. Steve Stricker was torn between Scheffler and good friend Sam Burns for his last picks, which doesn’t seem like much of a debate now.
While it was an American rout, one of the more pivotal moments was Saturday afternoon when Scheffler made two big putts on the closing holes of a fourballs win that felt like the end for Europe (and it was). Then, he handed Rahm his first loss of the week in singles. That prompted Brooks Koepka to refer to him as a “big-game hunter.”
He has a big game off the tee. He delivers with his long irons – nothing was prettier than Scheffler’s 3-iron to 15 feet for birdie on the par-3 eighth on Saturday – and his short game is exquisite. As a boy, Scheffler would watch tour pros at Royal Oaks in Dallas and challenge them to money games (coins, no doubt, at that age).
He also is bold. One remarkable aspect to Scheffler’s game Sunday was taking on every shot, regardless of his lead. He hit driver on No. 6 (with a three-shot lead) and No. 15 (with a five-shot lead). He also went for the green on the par-4 12th with water down the left side. His 3-wood was right where he was aiming, right of the green, setting up a fifth straight birdie.
Next up for Scheffler is the Dell Match Play next week in Austin, Texas, where he played for the Texas Longhorns and graduated from business school in four years. He won the Match Play a year ago. He nearly won it the year before, losing in the championship match to Billy Horschel. His record is 10-2-2 in both appearances.
And then it’s on to Augusta. Would anyone be surprised to see another green jacket? The short is probably yes, because only three players have won the Masters back to back, most recently Tiger Woods in 2002.
Scheffler is on another run. For now, the difference is fans have a better understanding why.
“He’s obviously just really good at pretty much every aspect of golf,” Max Homa said.
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