Japanese star Hideki Matsuyama enjoyed his career best finish at THE PLAYERS Championship with a solo fifth on Sunday as American Scottie Scheffler romped to a stylish five-stroke victory in the PGA TOUR’s flagship tournament.
Matsuyama entered the week seeking a return to form at TPC Sawgrass and he produced a barnstorming 4-under 68 in the final round to conclude his week on 9-under 279. Scheffler claimed his first PLAYERS triumph to join golf greats Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods as the only golfers to hold the Masters Tournament and THE PLAYERS titles at the same time.
With his second title of the season, Scheffler also regained the World No. 1 ranking from Jon Rahm of Spain.
Holding a two-shot overnight lead, Scheffler closed with a 69 in tough conditions for a winning total of 17-under to finish well clear of England’s Tyrrell Hatton, who carded a 65 highlighted by a record-tying 29 in his inward nine. Viktor Hovland (68) and Tom Hoge (70) shared third place on 10-under in the US$25 million showpiece.
Matsuyama, an eight-time PGA TOUR winner, began the final round some nine shots off the pace but he brilliantly powered into contention with seven birdies over his opening 13 holes as Scheffler stuttered early on. His title charge however came undone with a costly double bogey on 14 after he misjudged an approach shot.
“The second shot was tough as the wind was blowing from left and from the right, and I wasn’t sure. The shot I played was not with the wind direction I thought,” said Matsuyama, who has now posted three top-10s at THE PLAYERS in eight appearances.
“On 12 or 13, I think I was one back. I had a lot of momentum going but I didn’t finish the way I wanted to. 15, 16 and 17 were all birdie holes, and I was still in it. I think I played well but I definitely could have done better coming in over the last four or five holes. The fact I hit some great shots and great putts will be something I can take with me moving forward. I will also look back on the last five holes where I struggled and think about areas I can improve from that.”
Matsuyama’s second top-10 of the season pushes him up from 90th to 60th place on the latest FedExCup standings. He will return to action at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play at Austin Country Club in two weeks’ time.
Korea’s Sungjae Im also enjoyed his career best outing at THE PLAYERS after a closing 72 saw him finish tied sixth on 8-under while 2017 PLAYERS champion Si Woo Kim settled for a share of 27th place after a 72. Debutant Tom Kim carded his week’s best of 69 for T51.
Scheffler, 26, endured a nervous start with a bogey on the third but he turned on his class with five successive birdies around the turn which subsequently allowed him to enjoy the walk up to the 18th green in front of large crowds that included his wife Meredith, 88-year-old grandmother Mary and other family members.
“Any time you can get mentioned in the same breath as Tiger and Jack. it’s very special. I’m very grateful for that,” said Scheffler, whose victory was his sixth career PGA TOUR title coming across his last 27 starts
“I played really well the whole week, really solid. I had some times throughout week where I didn’t feel like I was swinging my best or playing at a hundred percent, and then I would just kind of wait and pick my moments, and fortunately, I got kind of hot in spurts in each of my rounds, whether it was the my back nine on first round or 8 through 12 this afternoon. I just found a way to choose my moments and get hot here and there and had four just really solid rounds.”
Final-Round Notes – Sunday, March 12, 2023
Weather: Partly cloudy. High of 82. Wind SSW 10-20 mph.
Scottie Scheffler 68-69-65-69—271 (-17)
Tyrrell Hatton 72-71-68-65—276 (-12)
Viktor Hovland 69-71-70-68—278 (-10)
Tom Hoge 78-68-62-70—278 (-10)
Hideki Matsuyama 74-70-67-68—279 (-9)