PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – After a few minutes spent discussing his star pupil, Randy Smith signaled the end to an impromptu interview outside the TPC Sawgrass clubhouse.
“I gotta go to the range, boys.”
Caddie Ted Scott was already there, posted up with the staff bag and a few bags of balls, waiting for his boss. Scottie Scheffler, meanwhile, was inside the media center, rehashing a marathon day at The Players Championship while also keeping an eye on the exit. He knew there was a bit work to be done, even after a third-round 65 put Scheffler in position to capture another legacy-defining title.
Sure, there were plenty of spectacular moments Saturday: a chip-in, a rifled 3-iron, a few gut-check wedges late. But what had Smith barking at the TV screen, and what had them destined for an empty practice area, were “three too many lefts” – at Nos. 7, 10 and 15. And so, even after a 4 a.m. wakeup, even after 26 holes, even with his nerves frayed, even after a host of media obligations, Scheffler went through a breezy range session to restore full and complete confidence, a scene that was reminiscent to his Saturday-night winddown at the 2022 Masters.
Satisfied, he finally left the course at about 7 p.m. Saturday.
“Overall,” he said, “a very solid day.”
Order has been restored at this Players Championship, with a host of unproven and unheralded players giving way to the reigning PGA Tour Player of the Year. From 144 of the Tour’s best, it is now, essentially, a two-man race, as Scheffler grabbed a two-shot lead over Min Woo Lee heading into the final round. Cam Davis is the only other player within four shots of the lead.
Lee, ranked 50th in the world, was fully aware of the monumental task before him.
“He’s just so comfortable being out here,” Lee said of Scheffler, “and he’s found his craft. That’s where every player wants to be.”
With questions about how Scheffler would follow up his breakout year, all he has done since is prevail against a top field in Phoenix, contend until the 72nd hole last week in his title defense at Bay Hill, and now, through three rounds, sit atop the leaderboard in the Tour’s flagship event that boasts one of the strongest fields in golf.
Another win Sunday at The Players would be Scheffler’s sixth title in the past 13 months – all in events there were either a major or have now received elevated status on Tour.
“I feel very comfortable,” he said. “I’ve put in a lot of hard work over the years, and it’s been a blessing to see so many results, and it’s been a lot of fun. Hoping to continue that going into tomorrow.”
Two shots behind here beginning the third round, Scheffler quickly erased the deficit with a birdie on the first hole and then an eagle chip-in on the second. As a gangly teenager, Scheffler groomed his scrambling skills by challenging Tour players to chipping contests and other games on the back of the range at Royal Oaks in Dallas. It’s where he developed an array of shots and fine-tuned his feel around the greens, to the point that he’s now one of the top scramblers on Tour.
Full-field scores The Players Championship
“He’d be batting 70% against the pros from age 9,” Smith said.
More than a decade later, the roles are reversed: the 12-year-olds at the club now want a piece of the reigning Masters champion.
Smith has only seen Scheffler lose once. “And he didn’t take it well,” Smith said.
“Of course, he got a rematch,” he said with a smile. “And the kid goes, ‘Ah, let me think on that.’’”
Scott has thrown down the gauntlet, too. He and his boss have a running bet this season on an unspecified number of hole-outs, and Scheffler’s delicate flop shot on the second hole Saturday sealed the win … well, at least it should have. Coy on the details, Scheffler said that Scott didn’t pay up.
“It’s an IOU from Teddy,” he said. “It’s probably more fun for me than it is to him. He occasionally cheers for one to not go in, as if that makes any difference.”
Of course, there hasn’t been much for Scheffler to clean up. He’s made only three bogeys during a week in which he has hit 76% of the greens and paced the field in strokes gained: tee to green.
And so the range session under the lights Saturday was more about maintaining a grooved swing than any worrisome left miss.
“He does not accept mediocrity. Period,” Smith said. “He really doesn’t.”
Nor should he.
He’s marching toward history.