The Players Championship: Scheffler triumphs at Sawgrass and soars back to number one

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Scottie Scheffler earned a huge confidence bump ahead of his Masters title defence by triumphing at The Players Championship on Sunday.

The American went on a run of five birdies around the turn at Sawgrass, picking up shots at each hole from eight to 12, on the way to a 69 that took him to 17 under, enough for a five-shot victory.

Scheffler, 26, hops up one spot and returns to number one in the world rankings thanks to this big win. He has won all six of his PGA Tour titles since the beginning of last year, with a hot streak leading up to Augusta last year followed in 2023 by a Phoenix Open victory and now this commanding success.

He was two clear of nearest rival Min Woo Lee coming into the final round, but as the Australian's challenge fell away, Scheffler pulled further clear of the field. He broke 70 in all four of his rounds.

Tyrrell Hatton matched the back-nine course record on his way to second place outright, with the Englishman coming home in 29 for a seven-under-par 65 to finish at 12 under.

Hatton made birdies at 10, 12 and then at every hole from the 14th onwards, producing what he described as a "pretty mad" final flourish to scorch to 12 under.

Viktor Hovland had a closing 68 to finish in a tie for third with Tom Hoge, whose 70 on Sunday was the final act in a dramatic week that began for him with a 78. Hoge narrowly made the cut after a 68 in round two, before shooting a course-record 62 on Saturday.

He cancelled flights home on Friday, when bad weather caused a delay to the second round, and again on Saturday, after making it through on the cut line, with Hoge reaping the rewards of his persistence.

American Alex Smalley had a hole-in-one at the 17th, the famous par-three island hole, early on Sunday, but windy conditions later on made it treacherous and a host of players sent balls into the water. Scheffler reached that penultimate hole with a five-shot lead and an excellent tee shot meant he had cleared the last real obstacle in his path.

Hideki Matsuyama was in with a shout at one stage after reaching 12 under with five holes to play, but the 2021 Masters champion played those holes in three over par, signing for a 68 and sliding to fifth place.

Scheffler's playing partner Lee was one of seven players tied for sixth after having two sevens on his card. Lee finished with a miserable 76 that a brilliant birdie at 17 could not salvage, albeit he revelled in the moment after hitting his tee shot to just five feet from the pin. A bogey at the last summed up his rotten day.

Taylor Montgomery went from 10 under after 14 holes to three under three holes later, twice finding water at the 17th, going 5-7-7 in that stretch to tumble off the leaderboard and into the ranks of the also-rans. He parred the last for a 76 and a tie for 44th place, having been firmly in contention for top three just an hour earlier.

Scheffler avoid any such chaos, and after an emotional celebration with family he told the Golf Channel: "It's a lot of fun. A long day, a tough day. I knew the conditions were going to get really hard late, and I did a really good job of staying patient and not trying to force things. I got hot in the middle of the round and tried to put things away as quickly as I could."

His game is in great shape ahead of his Augusta title defence next month, and Scheffler said: "I'm just hoping to improve. I'm just trying to get a little bit better, not over-think things. I'm so fortunate to be able to see some results and enjoy some wins and I'm very thankful."