PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – The second law of thermodynamics, simply stated, says that the level of disorder in the universe is steadily growing greater. Chaos is increasing.
On an annual basis, THE PLAYERS Championship serves as a microcosm of this principle. As the week progresses, and the conditions grow more difficult, suddenly the water hazards and pot bunkers become more intimidating and the targets start to shrink. Players laugh as they aim at the Island Green on a Wednesday. Their body pulses with cortisol when they see it on a Sunday.
Names like Len Mattiace, Paul Goydos and Sean O’Hair are permanent parts of PLAYERS lore because of the dramatic ways in which they suffered at the hands of the Stadium Course. No matter what the leaderboard looks like entering the final round, uncertainty prevails until the final putt.
This year looked like it could be an exception. The tournament’s trademark theatrics seemed like they could be absent after the reigning PGA TOUR Player of the Year, Scottie Scheffler, had built a two-shot lead through 54 holes. His six closest pursuers had an average world ranking of 102. Scheffler was the undoubted alpha on the leaderboard.
He’d recently earned his fifth PGA TOUR title in the last 13 months and seemed to be in the midst of another hot streak like the one he produced last spring, one that vaulted him to No. 1 in the world ranking and to his first major championship.
But as Scheffler started Sunday’s final round slowly, scratching his way to six pars and a bogey over the first seven holes, his lead came under assault from myriad directions. Hideki Matsuyama made six birdies in an eight-hole stretch. Max Homa played the first three holes of the back nine in 4 under par. Viktor Hovland made four birdies in a five-hole stretch starting at No. 9. And Tyrrell Hatton birdied his last five holes to shoot the first back-nine 29 on a Sunday at TPC Sawgrass.
When Scheffler’s tee shot on the par-3 eighth trickled onto a grassy slope lining a greenside bunker, it looked like his slide may continue. But what wasn’t discernible at the time is that the placement of Scheffler’s tee shot was a cunning decision based on intimate knowledge of the course. Scheffler and his caddie, Ted Scott, knew that being pin-high would leave a difficult par save because of the amount of slope in the green. He’d have a much better chance to make par if his approach shot was short of the hole, even if it wasn’t on the green.
“If I wasn’t playing that smart, I would have been in a really tough position,” Scheffler said after his round. Instead, he was left with what he called “a very gettable up-and-down.”
As Scheffler surveyed the shot, watching from outside the ropes was the man who’s coached Scheffler since he was a short kid wearing long pants to emulate the TOUR pros he idolized. Randy Smith could see in Scheffler’s eyes that the next shot was going in. He saw Scheffler surveying the break of the green, picking out a landing spot and even a small smile that Scheffler directed toward his caddie.
“There’s a good chance it’s going to go in the hole,” Smith thought. He was correct, predicting the shot that started the stretch where Scheffler did, indeed, take control of THE PLAYERS Championship. The chip-in on eight was the first of five consecutive birdies that Scheffler used in a final-round 69 that gave him a five-shot win over Tyrrell Hatton. Scheffler was three ahead at the turn and his lead increased to six by the time he birdied No. 12.
“I wanted to get as big of a lead as I could,” Scheffler said, aware that any PLAYERS champion must pass through 17 and 18. He exhaled when his tee shot on 17 hit the green, knowing that his work was all but done. Even though his lead grew as big as a half-dozen on the back nine, Scheffler told Scott that he was exhausted as he walked down the final fairway.
The victory, Scheffler’s second in his last four starts, moved him back to No. 1 in the world and third in the FedExCup standings. He joined Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus as the only players to simultaneously hold the Masters and PLAYERS titles.
Like his win last year at Augusta National, a greenside hole-out played an important part of his final round. It’s a testament to Scheffler’s soft hands and a short game that offers a strong complement to his elite ball-striking. At the Masters, Scheffler banged a bump-and-run into the slope fronting the third green to grow his lead to three strokes, his eventual winning margin.
Scheffler’s chip-in Sunday came a day after he holed a touchy flop shot for eagle on the second hole. His short-game acumen started at Royal Oaks Country Club in Dallas, where Scheffler studied under Smith and practiced alongside TOUR pros like Justin Leonard, Harrison Frazar and Colt Knost. The short game was the one area where a little kid could compete against pros, and Scheffler would drive the players who plied their trade at this game crazy by beating them in chipping contests. Smith estimates that Scheffler won 70% of those contests from 9 years old and up.
The variety of courses he’s conquered in his six wins over the past 13 months is a testament to a game with no discernible weaknesses. He’s second in Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee this season and first in Greens in Regulation (he also led the TOUR in that stat last season). He’s won at places ranging from Alister MacKenzie’s artistic creation at Augusta National, where wide fairways allow players to plot their own path, to the penal Pete Dye design of TPC Sawgrass, where potential disaster awaits any shot that strays from short grass. Scheffler has won in stroke play and match play, on courses wide and narrow, short and long.
“He’s more of an artist,” Smith said. “You give him this canvas, he wants to paint on it. That’s the thing. He’s not a one-dimensional player.”
Pulling off an exceptionally difficult shot will elicit an exclamation like, “Look at that. That was sick,” Smith said. “That goes back to the enjoyment he has playing the game.”
Scheffler said Sunday that he also enjoys conquering difficult conditions, something that his record in major championships attests to. He enjoys the challenge of saving par and recovering from the inevitable imperfect shot. Scheffler ranked in the top five of Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee, Approach-the-Green and Around-the-Green this week. No one hit more greens than him (54 of 72, 75%) and he was fourth in scrambling, getting up-and-down 13 of the 18 times he missed the green. Scheffler’s five bogeys matched the fewest made this week, and he didn’t make a score of double-bogey or worse.
“Around this place that’s really, really … hard to do,” Scheffler said about making just a handful of bogeys. “That’s probably what I’m most proud of.”
There may not be a player on TOUR better suited to handle the inherent imperfections of the game, a trait that bodes well in the game’s biggest tournaments where bogeys are inevitable. The man who admitted that his fears before the final round of last year’s Masters drove him to tears is a man not afraid to confront his weaknesses. He talks often about not being defined by his golf score, which keeps him from catastrophizing when bad shots do happen.
“I had some times throughout the week where I didn’t feel like I was swinging my best or playing at 100%,” Scheffler said, “and then I would just kind of wait and pick my moments.”
Chaos often reigns at TPC Sawgrass. On Sunday, Scottie Scheffler did instead.
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — Scottie Scheffler won early, holing a chip from deep rough for eagle on the par-5 second hole at The Players Championship to win a bet against his caddie on the number of times the Masters champion chips in during the season.
The bigger payoff was the way Scheffler navigated 26 holes on Saturday — eight in the morning to finish the rain-delayed second round, 18 in the afternoon when the TPC Sawgrass was as soft and vulnerable as it gets — for a 7-under 65 to build a two-shot lead over Min Woo Lee of Australia.
Still to come: A chance for Scheffler to capture another big prize against a strong field, return to No. 1 in the world and cash a $4.5 million winner’s check.
“I would much rather win the tournament than get back to No. 1 in the world,” Scheffler said. “So that will be my focus going into tomorrow, just going out and having a solid round of golf.”
Scheffler capped his long day with what amounted to a two-shot swing.
Lee, the younger brother of U.S. Women’s Open champion Minjee Lee, took three putts from 70 feet on the fringe at the 18th hole on the TPC Sawgrass for a 66. Scheffler, in the final group behind him, hit the ideal approach to the right side of the green and rode the slope to 10 feet for one final birdie.
He was at 14-under 202, and no one else from the top 10 in the world is within seven shots of him at the strongest field of the year.
Scheffler knows enough about Lee, who narrowly got into The Players, and the TPC Sawgrass to realize 18 final holes can feel like a long rollercoaster ride.
Lee holed out for eagle from 131 yards on the first hole and stayed with Scheffler stride-for-stride, and occasionally leading, until the end.
Lee only got into The Players Championship two weeks ago when he narrowly stayed in the top 50 after the Honda Classic. He made news on Thursday when he suffered a cramp on his tee shot at the 15th hole. And now he’s in the final group with the Masters champ.
“Tomorrow could be the biggest day of my life, but I’m going to go out there and have fun again,” Lee said. “It’s been the motto for the last three months. … I’m just out here enjoying my time, and like I said, I just crept into this tournament and making the most of it and soaking it all in.”
Cam Davis of Australia had a 67 and was four shots behind, followed by a group five back that included Tommy Fleetwood and Aaron Rai of England, who made a hole-in-one on the 17th. It was the first time the island green has yielded two aces in the same week. Chad Ramey made one in the opening round.
Jon Rahm, the current No. 1 and three-time winner this year, withdrew before the second round with a stomach ailment. Rory McIlroy had a chance to get back to No. 1, but he missed the cut with rounds of 76-73.
Storms kept half the field from finishing on Friday. Scheffler returned at 7 a.m. with eight holes to play, made a pair of birdies to get within two-shots of 36-hole leader Adam Svensson and then swapped turns at the top with Lee most of the day.
Tom Hoge set the record on the Players Stadium Course when he holed a 10-foot putt for his 10th birdie of the round and a 62.
And to think Hoge had a flight booked home to the Dallas area for Saturday afternoon. He opened with a 78, bounced back with a 68 and figured his 2-over total would still not be enough when the second round finished Saturday morning.
The biggest help came from Luke List. He was short of the par-5 ninth green in three, some 40 feet from the hole. Get up-and-down for par and the cut would be 1 over and 11 players would have missed the cut. He made double bogey. Hoge was among those who got in. And he took it from there, missing only two greens and converting all the important putts.
Hoge now is at 8 under, six shots out of the lead.
“I finished yesterday afternoon actually and woke up this morning to watch the scores for a few hours there, and that was all over the place,” Hoge said. “So I just felt fortunate to have tee time this morning. Just tried to go out and make as many birdies as I could.”
He didn’t know it was a course record until he signed his card.
Svensson, meanwhile, made birdie on his final hole of the second round after hitting into a hospitality tent next to the ninth. That gave him a 67 and a two-shot lead, and he started with a birdie. But it got sideways quickly, particularly when he made a mess of the 14th and took triple bogey. He shot 75 and fell eight back.
Lee has plenty at stake. A two-time winner on the European tour, he can earn PGA Tour status with a win, and a decent finish is likely to move him high enough in the world ranking to get in the Masters. There’s also that small matter of a $4.5 million payoff to the winner.
“Sawgrass is scary,” he said. “There’s a lot of times where people have faltered and you don’t want to be one of those. But as long as you can control your emotions and go out there and have fun — which I did — it was fun playing really good golf.”
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Chad Ramey became the only player to reach double digits under par at The Players Championship. The TPC Sawgrass, as usual, had the final say.
Ramey put two tee shots in the water on the island-green 17th hole Friday for a quintuple-bogey that cost him a two-shot lead on a day of wild swings and, eventually, wild weather.
The second round was suspended with half the field unable to finish the round because of a storm system expected to dump a half-inch of rain on the Players Stadium Course. (The resumption of Round 2 will be shown at 7 a.m. ET Saturday on Golf Channel.)
Christiaan Bezuidenhout of South Africa and Adam Svensson of Canada shared the lead at 8 under par, both doing what it takes to stay in front on this course. They didn’t make a bogey Friday — Bezuidenhout through 14 holes, Svensson through 11 holes — and they have only one for the week.
Ben Griffin was the clubhouse leader. The former mortgage loan officer, who already had one close call in Bermuda late last year, was playing an exquisite round until taking double bogey on his final hole for a 1-under 71.
Griffin was at at 6-under 138. Two-time major champion Collin Morikawa was 6 under through 11 holes, while Min Woo Lee was at 6 under with three holes left in his round.
“Kind of glad this rain delay and thunder came in and let the putter rest a little bit and hopefully come out hot tomorrow,” Morikawa said.
Players were to return at 7 a.m. ET Saturday to finish the second round. The third round is schedule for threesomes off both tees and should be able to finish before sundown. That depends on the pace of play, and some of that depends on Sawgrass.
Jon Rahm missed all of this. The world’s No. 1 player had a bad stomach bug and withdrew about 30 minutes before his tee time. That puts his ranking in jeopardy, as Scottie Scheffler and Rory McIlroy can overtake him.
The advantage goes to Scheffler, who looked shaky early and settled into his round. He birdied his last two holes of the day before the suspension — Nos. 9 and 10 — to get to 5 under. He has a 15-foot eagle putt on the 16th hole when play resumes.
McIlroy, meanwhile, took a double bogey on the sixth hole and was at 6 over for the tournament. He had eight holes to try to shave off four strokes that likely will be needed to make the cut.
Rahm made every cut last year, and he last missed a cut on the PGA Tour at the Fortinet Championship in September 2021, right before the Ryder Cup.
The course handed out some brutal punishments in the second round.
Start with Max McGreevy, who was 20 shots worse than his opening round. He shot 89, tying the wrong kind of course record as the highest ever posted at the TPC Sawgrass. The other player who shot 89 was Michael Campbell in the first round in 2003.
Viktor Hovland was 5 under for his round through 11 holes, even getting a break when his tee shot on the par-3 17th bounced off the wooden frame of the island and onto the green. But then he ran into trouble over his final seven holes and had to settle for a 71.
Hovland was at 4-under 140 along with Will Gordon (67) and the resurgent Jason Day (70), a former world No. 1 who is slowly working his way back. Day began the year at No. 112 in the world, and he could take a big step this week in assuring he stays in the top 50 the next two weeks to get into the Masters.
As for Jordan Spieth, he saw his tee shot in the air on his final hole at the par-5 ninth and figured it was time to clean out his locker. But instead of going into water — it was so far right the water typically isn’t in play — it hit a spectator in the leg and bounced back to the fairway. Spieth hit 3-wood to the collar of the green and chipped in for eagle.
That allowed him to salvage a 75, and he was safe to make the cut.
“I got an extremely lucky break on 9 or I wouldn’t be playing the weekend,” said Spieth, who was at even-par 144. “Trying to get that guy’s information and see literally whatever he wants this weekend. Because everything from here on out is because it hit him.”
Ramey opened with a 64 on Thursday and birdied two of his opening three holes to reach 10 under, expanding his lead to three. After his quintuple-bogey on the 17th, he had to make a 30-foot putt to save par on the 18th, and the dropped another shot on the first with a wild drive to the right. He was 4 under with eight holes left in his round.
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — Chad Ramey managed to avoid stress and bogeys Thursday in The Players Championship for an 8-under 64, making him an unlikely leader on a TPC Sawgrass course that rarely fails to deliver a surprise.
Ramey had a one-shot lead over two-time major champion Collin Morikawa in mild conditions. Roughly half the field was at par or better.
That doesn’t mean it was devoid of drama.
Hayden Buckley made an ace on the famed island green at the 17th, a hole he had only seen on TV until he arrived this week for his Players Championship debut.
Aaron Wise lost four balls in a span of two holes — in the water on the 17th, and then three straight tee shots in the drink left of the 18th fairway, where he closed with a 10, one short of the record for highest score on the closing hole.
Rory McIlroy had his highest score in just over a year. The 2019 Players champion opened with a 6, closed with a 6 and was pretty ordinary in between on his way to a 76
Ramey had no such problems, putting for birdie on all but two holes during the slightly more peaceful morning conditions.
“I might have made it look that way but it wasn’t easy at all,” Ramey said. “It was fun. First time to shoot a score on such an iconic course like this. You can’t ask for any more.”
Ramey qualified for his first Players Championship by winning in the Dominican Republic last year against a weak field held opposite the Dell Match Play.
He believes he belongs and can beat anyone, even the strongest field of the year so far. His record wouldn’t suggest that, even with the victory. In his 28 starts since then, Ramey has missed 18 cuts and failed to finish in the top 20 in the other tournaments.
“The game has felt really close,” Ramey said. “I know the scores haven’t showed it, but it’s felt really close. I just made one little tweak in my swing, and it really seems to be paying off. I kind of hit the ball where I was looking most of the day, and then whenever I did get out of position, I did a pretty good job getting back in.”
Morikawa has missed two cuts in his last three starts, rare for him, and spent extra time in his days off trying to find that fade that has carried him to so much early success. He thinks he is swinging it now as well as he did a few years ago.
His signature shot was a 4-iron to 3 feet for eagle on the par-5 second hole, his 11th of the day, and it came during an eight-hole stretch he played in 6-under par. Morikawa also played without a bogey, key on a course that can strike without notice.
“The game feels really good, and I’m just going to take that into the next few days and just kind of use that momentum to hopefully play three more really good rounds,” he said.
Taylor Pendrith and Ben Griffin were at 67, while Justin Suh also was at 5 under with three holes to finish before darkness suspended play.
Scottie Scheffler led the group at 68. He was part of the marquee group that featured the top three players in the world — Jon Rahm at No. 1 had a 71 and McIlroy is at No. 3. All of them have a chance to end up at No. 1 even without winning.
Otherwise, it was an eclectic mix of players at 69 or better, which is not unusual for the Players Stadium Course. It ranged from first-timers like Ramey and Min Woo Lee to major champions like Scheffler and Justin Rose (69) and Jordan Spieth (69).
Spieth nearly won The Players in his debut in 2014, losing to Martin Kaymer. He has missed the cut in five of his last seven appearances.
“It’s just one of those places where I felt like the way I played was really good a lot of times, and then I look at the board here, and I’m like, ‘Huh. I’m not even in the top 10.’ That’s just the way this tournament has been for me,” he said.
Xander Schauffele was a runner-up in his debut (four shots behind) and then missed the cut in his next three appearances. He looked like he was headed for another early departure when he was 4 over through 10 holes and had only three pars on his card. But he followed with an eagle on the 11th and added three other birdies to get back to 72.
The 17th hole had a front pin, typically not seen until Saturday’s round, and delivered plenty of excitement, good and bad. Buckley flung his cap into the air after his ball rolled down the slope and into the cup.
Kelly Kraft hit two into the water on his way to a quadruple-bogey 7. He had an 80, one of four players who shot 80 or higher. The weather conditions didn’t warrant such a score. The nature of the course allows for it just about every year.
“You just don’t get a lot of holes that you can kind of coast on,” Sam Burns said after his 68. “Every shot has your attention here.”