World No. 1 Scottie Scheffler dominates with back-to-back wins as Malnati, Jaeger and Eckroat triumph

By Helen Ross

Peter Malnati. Credit Getty Images

We probably shouldn’t have been surprised. After all, Scottie Scheffler hadn’t shot higher than 68 in the final round of any tournament this year – not to mention, he came to Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., on the heels of victory at Bay Hill the previous week.

Even so, he trailed Xander Schauffele by five strokes entering the final 18 holes of THE PLAYERS Championship. And a comeback of that magnitude on the diabolical Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass is no small order.

The world No. 1 was more than equal to the task, though, making six birdies and an eagle on the way to a 64 that tied Davis Love III (2003) and Fred Couples (1996) for the lowest final round by a winner at THE PLAYERS. The comeback matched Henrik Stenson (2009) and Justin Leonard (1998) for the largest at the Stadium Course, as well.

Also eye-catching, the victory was the first successful title defence at the PGA TOUR’s flagship event. The previous year, Scheffler led by two when he teed it up on Sunday, closed with a 69 and won by five. He is the only player to have shot all four rounds in the 60s on the Pete Dye masterpiece in two separate years.

Scheffler relied on his bread-and-butter in both wins – hitting fairways and greens and converting once he got there. His Strokes Gained: Tee to Green total of +15.88 in his title defence was the third best by a winner there in the ShotLink era – while his +17.17  total in 2023 topped the list. He finished +6.47 in that category on Sunday, also the best.

Scheffler is king of Bay Hill

It didn’t take Scottie Scheffler long to reap the benefits of his recent putter change. The Texan came to Orlando with a TaylorMade Spider X in his bag in place of the blade style he’s used for the majority of his career.

Scheffler ended up leading the field in Strokes Gained: Putting on Sunday at +3.892 as he closed with a 66 to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational. That was his best final-round SG: Putting tally since the second round of the Shriners Children’s Open in 2021 – and the third best on TOUR in the last two years.

For the week, Scheffler’s Strokes Gained: Putting total was 4.347 – his best 72-hole total since he picked up his first win at the 2022 WM Phoenix Open. He made all 17 putts he attempted inside 15 feet – one of eight rounds in which he hasn’t missed inside 15 feet.

He was particularly solid on Bay Hill’s challenging back nine, shooting 13 under, which was the lowest by anyone in the field.  He ranked sixth or better in Strokes Gained: Off the Tee, Approach the Green and Putting which led to a whopping +12.33 advantage in Strokes Gained: Total.

Scottie Scheffler (r) congratulates Stephen Jaeger. Credit Getty Images

Malnati ends 3,095-day drought at Valspar

Peter Malnati was hardly the odds-on favorite at the Valspar Championship.  After all, the genial 36-year-old had only made the cut twice in the previous eight times he’d played the event. Not to mention, the last time he’d won on the PGA TOUR was in 2015, a span of 3,095 days.

But Malnati hung tough when it counted on the Copperhead Course at Innisbrook Resort, playing the three closing holes, aptly nicknamed the Snake Pit, in 3 under. Contributing to that tally was a 6-foot birdie in the final round at the par-3 17th as his nearest competitor, Cameron Young, was in the process of bogeying the final hole.

Only Vijay Singh had done better, playing the Snake Pit in 5 under when he won the tournament in 2004. Malnati was the sixth Valspar Championship winner to go bogey free over the difficult finishing stretch, as well.  But the par 4s on the Copperhead Course were where Malnati really shined. He played them in 11 under with a scoring average of 3.69, both of which led the field. His birdie or better percentage of 36.11 on the par 4s also ranked him No. 1.

Jaeger enjoys winning jig in Texas

Stephen Jaeger knows how to go low. After all, this is a man who shot 58 on the way to one of his six Korn Ferry Tours. So, what are the odds that the 34-year-old would pick up his first PGA TOUR win by grinding out nine pars on the back nine Sunday at the Texas Children’s Houston Open? And playing in the final group with No. 1 Scottie Scheffler, no less.

Well, that’s exactly what happened at Memorial Park. Jaeger entered the final round in a five-way tie for the lead, turned in 32 and then gutted out the one-stroke victory. There were some anxious moments as Scheffler, bidding for his third win in as many starts, eyed a 5-footer that would have forced a playoff, though.

Jaeger is the fifth player since 2017 to win with nine pars on the back. He averaged +1.60 in Strokes Gained: Putting, which was his third best performance in his 135 TOUR starts.  The Munich native, who now lives in Chattanooga, Tennessee where he went to college, joins Bernhard Langer, Martin Kaymer and Alex Cejka as TOUR winners from Germany. He’s the fifth first-time winner this year and the fourth international player to raise a trophy.

Easy does it for Eckroat

The last time Austin Eckroat had won a tournament was at the 2019 Querencia Cabo Collegiate when he was a sophomore at Oklahoma State. So, what was another night’s sleep at the rain-delayed Cognizant Classic of the Palm Beaches?

The 25-year-old had built a one-stroke lead through seven holes at PGA National on Sunday when play was suspended. He returned Monday morning and was never caught as he won by three strokes in his 50th start on TOUR. The PGA TOUR University alum finished the week ranked first in Greens in Regulation, hitting 59 of 72, and he was tied for third in Fairways Hit, finding 45 of 56. Eckroat’s total of +9.01 in Strokes Gained: Tee to Green was the second best of his young career. Eckroat’s work on the greens was solid, too – he tied for third in Putts per GIR and was sixth in Putting overall. He ended the week with 23 birdies, also second best in his career.

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