Sam Torrance: Scottie Scheffler and a thrilling three-man fight to be world No1
As the countdown to the Masters continues, Scottie Scheffler produced a performance on a par with his Augusta triumph last year to win the Players Championship and return to world No1.
Scheffler played magnificent golf at Sawgrass, where he won by five shots from England’s Tyrrell Hatton on Sunday evening.
He was only two shots ahead with 10 holes still to play and some difficult windy conditions to contend with when Hatton signed for a 65 and set a clubhouse target of 12 under par.
It could have gone wrong but Scheffler was so calm, following up a chip-in at the par three eighth with another good birdie at the next to extend his advantage at the top of the leaderboard.
He went on to make it five birdies in a row, a hot streak that effectively secured the victory and a $4.5m first prize at the unofficial fifth major.
This was his second title already this year and his sixth since the start of 2022. He looks to be playing every bit as well as he did last year, with every aspect of his game hot right now.
It also ensured that Scheffler moved back in front of Jon Rahm at the top of the world rankings. That is fully deserved, although it was a shame that Rahm had to pull out of the Players with a stomach bug, given that he has also been in sensational form this year.
With Rory McIlroy, who suffered a rare off week and missed the cut at Sawgrass, also playing some of the best golf of his life in the past 12 months, it is shaping up to be quite a battle for the No1 spot between the three men.
Hatton has always been one of my favourites and on Sunday he showed everyone what he can do by playing the back nine in a record-equalling 29.
He still finished five shots adrift of Scheffler but it was a great performance nonetheless and further cements his place in the European team for this year’s Ryder Cup.
One of the highlights of Hatton’s round was an exceptional second shot from out of the pine straw at the 18th to set up a closing birdie. Moments like that are great for the confidence ahead of next month’s Masters.
He wasn’t the only Englishman to shine at Sawgrass, with Justin Rose and Tommy Fleetwood also showing encouraging form.
Rose followed up his win at Pebble Beach last month with a tie for sixth place – a good sign heading to Augusta, where he has gone close before.
After his 65 on Saturday, Fleetwood fell away with a 76 on Sunday but looks to have benefited from some recent work with coach Butch Harmon.
Best known for coaching Tiger Woods, Harmon has also been helping Rickie Fowler to climb the rankings again after the American slipped outside the top 150.
Viktor Hovland, another European Ryder Cup candidate, also showed that he is moving in the right direction with a tie for third place.
It was all about Scheffler this week, however. He seems a lovely man and has a wonderful demeanour on course, and his burgeoning rivalry with Rahm and McIlroy is good for golf. If the trio continue to keep pushing each other, we could be in for a truly vintage season.
Sam Torrance OBE is a former Ryder Cup-winning captain and one of Europe’s most successful golfers. Follow him @torrancesam