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Scottie Scheffler becomes first to ever defend Players Championship after Wyndham Clark’s crucial putt lips out

Scottie Scheffler tees off during the final round of The Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida
Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images
Scottie Scheffler tees off during the final round of The Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida

By Jack Bantock, CNN

(CNN) — Wyndham Clark thought his ball was in. TPC Sawgrass thought it was in. As it rolled around the cup, some of it actually was in.

Yet somehow, someway, the birdie putt the American star needed to force world No. 1 Scottie Scheffler into a playoff lipped out, crowning his compatriot as the first ever back-to-back winner of The Players Championship.

Scheffler mounted a stunning Sunday charge to overturn a five stroke deficit and defend his crown by the slimmest of margins in Florida, tearing around the Stadium Course with a closing eight-under 64 – tied for the lowest round of the tournament – to win by one stroke at 20-under par overall.

Triumph at the 50th edition of the PGA Tour’s flagship event secured the 25-year-old a $4.5 million winner’s cut of a $25 million prize purse.

His eighth victory on the PGA Tour and second in a matter of days after a dominant win at the Arnold Palmer Invitational last week, Scheffler’s place as the dominant force in the men’s game is further cemented by an unprecedented defense of golf’s ‘fifth major’.

“That’s something you never really get the opportunity to do very often,” he told reporters.

“It’s tough enough to win one Players, so to have it back-to-back is extremely special. Really thankful.”

Scheffler had eased to a commanding five shot victory a year ago, but had to withstand greater pressure from his rivals – and even his own body – to repeat the feat.

The world No. 1 had played through neck pain for most of Friday’s second round, even receiving mid-play treatment from a physiotherapist.

His swing was so affected that Scheffler had wondered if he would be able to continue playing, but stayed the course to shoot 69 and 68 before his final round flourish.

“I’m a pretty competitive guy, and I didn’t want to give up in the tournament,” Scheffler said Sunday.

“I did what I could to hang around until my neck got better. Today it felt really good. Marnus [physio] did a great job getting me going, getting it massaged out, and I was very thankful.”

Clark: ‘I don’t know how that putt doesn’t go in’

It was an agonizing end to another impressive week for reigning US Open winner and world No. 5 Clark, who was forced to settle for a share of second alongside fellow Americans Brian Harman and Xander Schauffele.

All three had arrived at the final tee a stroke needing a birdie to make a playoff, but while reigning Open champion Harman and world No. 6 Schauffele got within a few feet of forcing Scheffler back out, Clark came within millimeters.

Putting from over 16 feet, the 30-year-old looked to have measured his birdie effort perfectly. A few disbelieving moments later, he was tapping in for par.

On his return to the clubhouse, Clark was still racking his brain as to how he didn’t finish with a 68.

“I don’t know how that putt doesn’t go in,” Clark said.

“It was kind of right center with like a foot to go, and I knew it was going to keep breaking, but it had speed and I thought it was going to go inside left. Even when it kind of lipped, I thought it would lip in.”

It was yet another impressive week for the in-form Clark, who shattered the course record en route to being declared the winner of a storm-stricken Pebble Beach Pro-Am in California last month – not that it was any immediate consolation.

Maybe next week sometime I’ll really be able to look at those positives and feel good about it, but right now I’m pretty down,” he said.

“Obviously there’s positives in it. You finish second, you get a bunch of points and money and all that stuff, but it just sucks. I’ve always wanted and dreamt about making a putt that really mattered to either force a playoff or win a tournament, and I have yet to do it in my professional career, so I was pretty bummed that I didn’t have one of those really awesome moments.

“I’m still a little beside myself.”

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