The Punter

The Punter's De-brief: Scheffler defies the stats to win again

Golfer Scottie Scheffler
Scottie Scheffler with the Players Championship trophy

Scottie Scheffler came from five shots back to become the first man in history to defend the Players Championship...

Having been well supported before the off (backed down form 30.029/1 to 25.024/1), Xander Schauffele was matched at odds-on when he hit the front during round three of the Players Championship. He was leading by one and was trading at around 11/82.38 with a round to go.

He birdied the par five second hole before dropping a shot at the fourth but with neither of his closest rivals, Wyndham Clark and Brian Harman, pulling up any trees either, Schauffele's pedestrian start didn't appear too disastrous.

Clark drew alongside Schauffele when the 54-hole leader bogeyed the fourth and Harman was slow out of the gates, playing his first six holes in one-over-par. But it was soon apparent who the big danger was - defending champion Scottie Scheffler.

The world number one, who was a well-backed 6/17.00 favourite before the off, was matched at a high of 40.039/1 on Saturday when he looked out of it before he birdied the last three holes of round three.

That still left him trailing by five and trading at around 12/113.00 with a round to go and when he failed to birdie the par five second, he looked up against it until this remarkable eagle two on the fourth.

The two at four was the spark required and after a fabulous five-under-par 31 on the front-nine, the defending champ was tied for the lead as he turned for home.

History was against Scheffler as nobody had ever defended the title and he looked up against it when Schauffele moved two clear of him with birdies at seven and nine.

The world number one bounced back with birdies of his own on 11 and 12 and although Harman had rallied with birdies at seven, eight, nine and 11, Schauffele and Scheffler looked the most likely winners after Clark had bogeyed the 10th to fall two back.

After a string of pars, Scheffler birdied the par 16th to tie the lead but when Scheffler and Clark both bogeyed the 14th, for the first time since early on Friday morning, the defending champ was back in front on his own.

A pair of pars at the 17th and 18th saw him post a 20-under-par total - a number nobody else could match.

Having hit a high of 190.0189/1, Clark rallied brilliantly to get back to within one with birdies at both 16 and 17 and he came this close to drawing alongside Scheffler at the 72nd hole.

Scheffler won by a stroke with Schauffele, Clark and Harman tied for second.

Scottie bucks the trends

In addition to becoming the first player to successfully defend the title, Scheffler was the first to win with an afternnon tee-time on day one since Martin Kaymer 10 years ago and he came from as far back with a round to go as any Sawgrass winner this century.

Justin Leonard trailed by five in third place in 1998 and Henrik Stenson was five back in second in 2009. Scheffler's victory was more impressive given he trailed by five but had five men in front of him at the start round four. And the two major winners ahead of him both broke 70.

Harman shot 68 and Clark 69 but, after Schauffele's two-under-par 70, he's the 31st player since 1997 to lead or co-lead and he's the 28th to fail to break 70.

The 54-hole leader's chance went with back-to-back bogeys at 14 and 15 but it's notoriously hard to convert from the front at Sawgrass and he's the ninth player in-a row to lead by a stroke and fail to convert.

More Masters money for Scheffler

Having shortened up from 9.08/1 to 7.06/1 after his impressive victory at the Arnold Palmer Invitational a week ago, the world number one is now a 6.411/2 chance to win the US Masters. The three men who tied for second have also seen their prices cut.

Wyndham Clark has never played in the US Masters before so he's up against it given Fuzzy Zoeller, in 1979, is the last debutant to win. But Clark is now a 32.031/1 chance, having been matched at a high of 140.0139/1.

Harman is now a 55.054/1 chance, having been an 85.084/1 shot just a week or so ago. Schauffele's price to win his first major at Augusta next month is now 27.026/1.

Harman has ordinary Augusta form figures reading MC-44-12-MC-MC, but he sat second at halfway in 2021. Schauffele has contended strongly twice. He has Augusta form figures reading 50-2-17-3-MC-10.

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