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Don’t be surprised if Scottie Scheffler’s reign at No. 1 lasts for a while this time

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — Everyone in golf knew Scottie Scheffler’s rise to world supremacy was probably coming long before he added The Players Championship to his trophy collection Sunday.

He’s no longer a Scottie-come-lately, but legitimately the game’s preeminent player.

Scheffler has been dropping hints about potential stardom for a decade, back when he won the 2013 U.S. Junior Amateur and then matched Jordan Spieth’s Texas high school record by capturing three individual state titles.

That same year, as a 17-year-old amateur, he finished tied for 22nd in his PGA Tour debut at the Byron Nelson Championship.

In 2017, he finished as the low amateur at the U.S. Open (1-under-par) before he could legally drink, then was part of the U.S. Walker Cup-winning team.

Two years later, he won two Korn Ferry Tour events and was named Player of the Year. A year later, he went 2-0-1 at the Ryder Cup and took out Jon Rahm in singles, then captured Player of the Year last season on the PGA Tour.

Notice a pattern here? Scheffler just kept checking box after box until he rose to No. 1 in the world last March, stayed there for seven months, and has now regained that perch after Rory McIlroy and Rahm briefly took him down a peg.

The Tiger-Jack connection

With Scheffler winning his sixth Tour event in 13 months — becoming the only player besides Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus to reign simultaneously as champions of The Players and Masters — this 26-year-old American is officially a golf tornado.

And there’s nothing to indicate he won’t leave more of the planet’s best players helpless in his wake.

“Yeah, he’s very impressive. Incredibly consistent,” said Englishman and Players runner-up Tyrrell Hatton, who finished five shots back of Scheffler. “He’s had an amazing, what, 15-month stretch of golf. Played with him last Sunday [at the Arnold Palmer Invitational] and it was clear he didn’t have his best that day, but he still hung around and had a chance there right at the end.

“It’s a pretty tough thing to do to be up there when you don’t have your best golf and still give yourself a chance to win. It’s very impressive what he’s doing. Not much more that I can say.”

Hatton’s spot-on assessment of Scheffler is nothing flashy, which matches precisely the aw-shucks manner that The Players champion still views himself.

No matter how fast a dominant golf figure he’s become, Scheffler doesn’t get too caught up in his own accomplishments. He remains impeccably grounded for someone who has gone on a Tiger-like run, ever since capturing his first Tour event 392 days ago at the Waste Management Phoenix Open.

When asked if he ever thought during his decade-long, meticulous rise that his career would become as special as it is now, Scheffler acts like he’s done nothing extraordinary.

“I don’t really know,” said Scheffler. “I never really thought that much of myself. I always just tried to stay in my own little bubble. I did a good job of being a good junior, and then I was a pretty good college player, and then I played good on the Korn Ferry Tour, and I just keep trying to get a little bit better.

“I always believed that I could make it out here and play well on Tour, but I never expected it. It’s kind of hard to describe the feeling, but I just, I never really looked that far ahead.”

Scottie Scheffler reacts with his wife Meredith on the 18th hole after winning the 2023 Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida.(Photo: Corey Perrine/Florida Times-Union)

A drama-absent Players

You might say Scheffler’s stay-in-the-moment mindset is working out just fine. At no point Sunday — even when Scheffler’s 6-foot par attempt slid by the hole at No. 3 and dropped him into a tie with Min Woo Lee — was there any indication he might lose.

Within 14 minutes, after Lee hit an 85-yard approach into the water and made triple bogey at the fourth hole, the biggest threat to Scheffler’s lead all day was removed.

Though Hatton had a spectacular back-nine 29 to finish 12-under-par, pulling him within two shots as Scheffler made the turn, it didn’t matter because the 6-foot-3 Texan stood tall and killed hope for everybody.

The door started closing with a chip-in for birdie at the par-three 8th hole, triggering a hand slap for caddie Ted Scott and a run of five consecutive birdies that ruined any chance of drama.

Scheffler became only the third solo third-round leader in the last 15 years (joining Webb Simpson in 2018, Jason Day in 2016) to win The Players.

In 72 holes, Scheffler had only five bogeys, saying it was “probably what I’m most proud of is just playing so solid. Yeah, I think I just like the challenge of kind of harder golf courses.”

He certainly proved that in long stretches navigating the Stadium Course. Scheffler went 13 straight holes without a bogey in Round 1, another 21 straight combined in Rounds 2 and 3, then 23 of 24 holes without a bogey in Rounds 3 and 4.

Scheffler was also the only player in the field to avoid a three-putt all week. That was a key component in one of the most dominant victories at The Players, where 20 of the last 40 tournaments were decided by one shot. He avoided the disastrous holes that befell so many competitors, especially Lee on Sunday.

Fellow Texan Spieth, who plays as much golf with Scheffler as anybody, is the least surprised by his friend’s ascent.

“Tee to green, he’s as good as he’s ever been right now,” said Spieth. “With some flair and some stuff around the greens and making some putts, he’s a guy that’s hard to beat. I play against him a lot at home, and consistently he’s shooting really low rounds. When I feel like I get the better of him, it’s a boost of confidence right now because he’s arguably the best player in the world.

“It’s easy to say right now that I consider him the best in the world in the current situation.”

Grandma tough as Scheffler

Just as McIlroy, Spieth, Jason Day, Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson and Rahm have all done their Tiger Light impersonations in the past decade, it’ll be interesting to see how long Scheffler can sustain this run of dominance.

After the Big Three of Rahm, McIlroy and Scheffler played ping-pong with the No. 1 world ranking the past year, The Players victory has given Scheffler a 1.23-point lead over Rahm, the largest margin by anybody this season.

He became the only player since Jacksonville’s David Duval in 1999 to elevate back to No. 1 after winning The Players.

Not that it’s any big deal to Scheffler, who calls the OWGR “an algorithm,” just some random number for the media to hype. But it does validate that Scheffler, more than anyone else, is at the top of his game.

Part of his success, as well as surging popularity, is Scheffler just doesn’t take himself too seriously. While he acknowledges being a fierce competitor, saying “I like beating [wife] Meredith at board games,” there’s an undeniable combination of balance and composure within that makes Scheffler a force in pressure moments.

“Oh, he’s obviously used to being in this position now, he’s done it so many times already,” said Australian Cam Davis, who finished tied for 6th at 8-under-par. “Yeah, I think he’s just got the attitude for it. Just looks like he’s calm, just doing his business, not really worrying what everyone else is doing and churning out birdies, which is what you need to do out here.

“So obviously he’s got his system down and figured out and I think the closer everyone else can get to finding theirs and sticking to it, regardless of what’s going on, the better chance we’ll have of keeping up with him.”

Once he got into the lead on the Saturday back nine, Scheffler never fell behind. It probably helped that nearly his entire family was with him for the victory celebration around the 18th green.

Not just Scheffler’s wife, but his parents, one of his three sisters and 88-year-old maternal grandmother, Mary DeLorenzo, a longtime Jacksonville resident who walked all 72 holes with him. Scheffler called DeLorenzo “a trooper” and hinted that he’d probably go to her house afterward to sample one of her desserts.

DeLorenzo’s daughter, Diane Scheffler, wasn’t sure what treat her mother might have waiting for Scottie, but suspected it might be one of her two specialties, coconut cream or chocolate cream pie.

With Scheffler also having a sterling silver, gold-plated Players Championship trophy, a No. 1 ranking and earning a $4.5 million payday, life doesn’t get much sweeter.

Then again, looking at Scottie Scheffler’s career timeline, golf insiders suspected this might be in the works.

Gfrenette@jacksonville.com: (904) 359-4540

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