Scottie Scheffler is reaching a dominance not seen since Tiger Woods


PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — Scottie Scheffler is next in line for comparisons with Tiger Woods because golf, like other sports, is always looking for the heir to the throne.

Scheffler is playing great golf, measured as much by his elite ball-striking and alarming consistency as the results. He now has nine victories against the strongest fields — one of them a small field in the Bahamas — in the 25 months since he won his first PGA Tour title.

Equally impressive is his 65% rate of finishing in the top 10.

The next Woods?

“I think that’s a funny question,” Scheffler said Sunday evening after his record-tying final round made him the first back-to-back winner of The Players Championship.

He found out the answer a month earlier at Riviera during the Genesis Invitational.

“I’m not going to remember the exact numbers, but we’re playing at Riv this year and I hit my tee ball, and this guy yells out, ‘Congrats on being No. 1, Scottie — 11 more years to go!’” he said.

And then Scheffler repeated the number to let it sink in for anyone listen.

“Eleven more years to go.”

Scheffler reached No. 1 in the world for the fourth time after his runner-up finish in the PGA Championship last May, and he has been there ever since, challenged a few times by either Jon Rahm or Rory McIlroy.

And now with his second straight win — a five-shot victory at Bay Hill, a five-shot comeback at the TPC Sawgrass — his lead at the top of the ranking is the largest since Dustin Johnson in May 2017. Johnson stayed No. 1 for 64 consecutive weeks, the longest in the post-Woods era. Scheffler is currently at 43 weeks. His total time has been 78 weeks.

Woods holds the record at 281 consecutive weeks, breaking his previous mark of 264 consecutive weeks. His total time at No. 1 was slightly more than 13 years.

Scheffler was off by two years. No need to quibble.

“Anytime you can be compared to Tiger I think is really special,” Scheffler said. “But I mean, the guy stands alone I think in our game. He really does.”

Scheffler has tied Woods with the most Players Championship titles — two.

“Outside of that, I’ve got 14 more majors and 70-some PGA Tour events to catch up,” he said. “So I think I’m going to stick to my routine and just continue to plod along, try and stay as even-keeled as I can.”

It’s easy to overlook Johnson, partly because he is with LIV Golf and is seen against a full roster of great players only at the four majors, and partly because it has been seven years since he was at his most dominant. He won three straight tournaments — Riviera and two World Golf Championships — and was the overwhelming favorite at the Masters until slipping down the stairs the day before the first round and having to withdraw.

Before him was McIlroy, who won seven times from May 2014 through May 2015, including consecutive majors. And then he injured his knee playing soccer, missing the British Open at St. Andrews, and lost the No. 1 ranking to Jordan Spieth.

Scheffler offered a small reminder about looking too far into the future. He felt something in his neck on the second hole of his second round, and the pain was such that it hurt to take the club too far back. He needed treatment after the 13th, 14th and 15th holes. He had reason to withdraw except that he was playing well — he was tied when he felt the pain — and his competitiveness kept him from stopping.

So he got through Friday with a 69, and then relied more on his hands for a game he described as “kind of slapping it around.” He birdied the last three holes Saturday for a 68 to stay in the game, five shots behind.

And then he felt better on Sunday and delivered a masterpiece — a hole-out from 92 yards for eagle on No. 4, four birdies in a five-hole stretch around the turn and a 64 to match the Players Championship record for lowest Sunday score by a winner.

And no one was terribly surprised, the ultimate compliment.

Statistically, he led the field from tee-to-green, just like he seems to do whenever and wherever he plays. It wasn’t his best week with the irons — remember the “slapping it around” from Saturday — and he a little better than middle of the pack in putting.

It’s been that way for some time. His consistently great play first came into focus at the start of 2023 when it took until July at the British Open for his first result worse than a tie for 12th. And it hasn’t really stopped.

The best since Woods in his prime? Scheffler gets closer the larger his sample size gets. The real measure is when expectations get too high for anyone but Woods to match. It’s getting close. Still to be determined is whether it gets to him, which sounds unlikely.

“I try not to place too much emphasis on results, good or bad,” Scheffler said. “I show up to try and perform my best and hopefully win tournaments. But when I stand on the tee on Thursday, I’m not thinking about the trophy ceremony at the end of the week. I’m just trying to be committed to the shot and just go from there.”

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AP golf: https://apnews.com/hub/golf



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