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Scheffler is trying to make history at The Players Championship by winning two years in a row. No one has ever done this before

Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus, and other top golfers have never achieved it. The challenge for Scottie Scheffler this week at The Players Championship is trying to be the first player to win back-to-back. Scheffler is in a good position, but

By DOUG FERGUSON (AP Golf Writer)

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus never did it. They didn't achieve this before The Players Championship was held at TPC Sawgrass.

This is the 50th edition of the PGA Tour’s main championship, and no one has ever defended their title. Now it's Scottie Scheffler's turn, and the odds are in his favor as much as any of the previous winners.

This includes Woods, who only had one chance in 2002, didn’t play well and finished tied for 14th.

“I just think it’s a golf course where you don’t see many repeat winners in general,” Scheffler said. “There’s not a guy that you have seen win on this golf course a bunch.”

Only five players have won twice on the Stadium Course at the TPC Sawgrass. Nicklaus won The Players three times, but that was before it moved permanently to this Pete Dye arena of endless thrills and that one (mostly) island green on the par-3 17th.

Scheffler is currently the top player in the world, the first time the defending champion of The Players has been at the top of the world ranking since Jason Day in 2016. The difference is Scheffler arrived at Sawgrass straight from a dominant performance to win at Bay Hill by five shots.

Already the best from tee-to-green, his putter finally came to life and the rest of golf’s best had every reason to be nervous.

“I’ve personally had some really, really nice ball-striking weeks,” FedEx Cup champion Viktor Hovland said. “But for him to have done that for so long and won so many tournaments that he’s done the last couple years is very, very impressive. Because you get into periods of times where you feel like you can’t miss and you’re hitting it on a string, but then next month it might feel a little bit difficult. He just seems to keep doing what he’s doing.”

Scheffler has been No. 1 for the last 10 months, and it’s not difficult to do the math. Along with three victories in the last year — that includes the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas — he has finished out of the top 10 only three times in 22 tournaments.

How that translates to Sawgrass is yet to be seen, even on a course where a year ago it looked as though he was playing alone. He led by six shots at one point and won by five shots, just as he did at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

History, however, is not on his side. The Stadium Course has a reputation of never favoring a single style of golf, and there is trouble just about everywhere that everyone seems to find at some point over the tournament.

“That’s why I think it’s one of the best places we play on tour, just because it really doesn’t suit one type of player,” Scheffler said. ”Bomb-and-gouge doesn’t really work out here. But then you even have the shorter hitters that plot it around that can struggle here, because you got to hit it exactly where you’re looking or you’re going to be punished pretty severely.”

What has changed is The Players now needs an asterisk, but only if it claims to have the strongest and deepest field in golf. World ranking aside, golf is so divided now because of the defections to LIV Golf that all the best are not at Sawgrass — not Masters champion Jon Rahm or Cameron Smith, who conquered Sawgrass two years ago. Not Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka or Bryson DeChambeau.

PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan sounds like there's no immediate solution.

Monahan said any agreement with the Saudis and any fix for the divided landscape in golf will take time.

The Players starts on Thursday, and at the very least, it's a time to shift the focus to the competition for four days.

Xander Schauffele criticized Monahan, saying he has "a long way to go" to rebuild trust. Rory McIlroy expressed support for Monahan, stating he was the right choice for the job and the tour was in a stronger position with new funding from private investors.

Scheffler implied that the players not at Sawgrass this week because of LIV should take responsibility for the division.

He suggested that the players who left are to blame for any fan dissatisfaction, stating that the division stems from their absence.

Schauffele perhaps summed it up the best.

He said, “I think you would like to have those players playing in an ideal world, but I feel like we’re sort of beating a dead horse in this media room a little bit.”

___

AP golf: https://apnews.com/hub/golf

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