PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Scottie Scheffler was fearless on a TPC Sawgrass course that can jangle the nerves on every hole. The wind was getting stronger, the targets looked smaller, and all he wanted was to make sure his lead got larger in The Players Championship.
“You can't limp in on this golf course,” he said. “You've got to hit the shots.”
He did every bit of that Sunday in a masterful performance that only enhanced his reputation as a player who's at his best when playing the best in the world.
Scheffler ran off five straight birdies in the middle of his round, built a six-shot lead and left all the drama to everyone else on his way to a 3-under 69 to win the richest prize on the PGA Tour by five shots.
As a half-dozen players tried to make a game of it, Scheffler took on the daunting Players Stadium Course as if he was playing alone.
And that's how he made it look.
“Just looks like he's calm, just doing his business, not really worrying what everyone else is doing and churning out birdies,” Cam Davis said.
The victory was worth $4.5 million and sent Scheffler back to No. 1 in the world for the second time this year. He now has six victories in his last 27 starts on the PGA Tour, including the four wins he had last year culminated by his Masters title.
When he poured in a 20-foot par putt on the final hole, Scheffler had the largest margin of victory in The Players since Stephen Ames won by six in 2006.
“I got hot in the middle of the round and tried to put things away as quickly as I can,” Scheffler said.
He was leading by five and standing on the 16th green when he looked across the lake and saw Davis hit his tee shot over the island green at the par-3 17th, and then Tommy Fleetwood come up short.
That was the goal. Build a big lead so that even if he joined the dozen players who hit into the water on Sunday, at least it couldn't cost him. Like everything else for Scheffler on this day, it was no problem. He hit an ideal shot to 10 feet, made par and the rest was easy.
And then the celebration was on with his wife, parents, sister and 87-year-old grandmother, who kept pace with him for so much of the day.
That's something the strongest field of the year couldn't do.
Tyrrell Hatton birdied his last five holes for a 65, finishing when Scheffler was making the turn. Viktor Hovland (68) and Tom Hoge (70) were seven shots behind in a tie for third, each making nearly $1.5 million from the $25 million purse.
Scheffler, who finished at 17-under 271, became only the third player to win at the TPC Sawgrass with all four rounds in the 60s.
Min Woo Lee of Australia, making his Players Championship debut, briefly was tied for the lead but finished with a 76.
Lee made one too many blunders, not that it would have changed anything the way Scheffler lit up the TPC Sawgrass. One of them came on the par-4 fourth, when Lee was tied for the lead. He chipped out of the rough only to have his third shot spin back into the water, leading to a triple bogey.
By the time he recovered, Scheffler was racing away.
It started when Scheffler chipped in from the collar of a bunker on the par-3 eighth, and he closed out the front nine with an aggressive play on the par-5 ninth that set up a chip-and-a-putt birdie.
Hatton teed off two hours ahead of Scheffler, and he capped off his closing run of five straight birdies as Scheffler headed for the back nine. Hatton, the first player to shoot 29 on the back nine at Sawgrass on a Sunday, posed at 12-under 276.
The wind was gusting close to 30 mph, which only adds to the trouble on this course. Scheffler stayed aggressive, though, holing an 18-foot birdie on the 10th, two-putting from 70 feet on the par-5 11th and taking on the reachable par-4 12th with a 3-wood to pin high just right of the green. That set up his fifth straight birdie, and a six-shot lead.
For the final two hours, it was a money grab for everyone else — and some wasted cash for those who fell victim to the wind and water and the cruel Players Stadium Course.
Hatton, who started the final round nine shots behind, finished off his five straight birdies with a 4-iron out of the pine straw and around the trees to 20 feet.
He won $2,725,000 — just over $1 million more than his Bay Hill victory in 2020.
Hideki Matsuyama was within one shot — this was before Scheffler went on his birdie run — only to take double bogey on the 14th, fail to birdie the par-5 16th and bogey the 18th. He was 7 under for the round through 13 holes and had to settle for a 68.
The biggest meltdown belonged to PGA Tour rookie Taylor Montgomery, who was tied for fourth until a bogey on the 15th, a double bogey on No. 16 (without hitting in the water) and two balls in the water on the 17th — a full shot and a chip — for a quintuple-bogey 7.
He dropped 40 spots on the leaderboard, and at No. 55 in the world, that kept him from cracking the top 50 in the ranking and likely securing a spot in the Masters.
Ultimately, though, this was a one-man show.
Scheffler won for the sixth time in the last 13 months, all of them against some of the strongest fields in golf. Commissioner Jay Monahan introduced him as the PGA Tour player of the year in 2022, and now the Players champion in 2023.
“He’s in a good position to be able to continue to do this a while,” Jordan Spieth said.
AP golf: https://apnews.com/hub/golf and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports