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Scheffler's five-shot rally earns Players Champ first

AP PHOTO

World No.1 Scottie Scheffler has overturned a five-shot deficit to become the first player to successfully defend The Players Championship in the tournament's 50-year history.

Scheffler carded an eagle and six birdies in a flawless closing 64 at Sawgrass to finish 20 under par - a shot ahead of US Open champion Wyndham Clark, British Open champion Brian Harman and overnight leader Xander Schauffele.

Clark (69) birdied the 16th and 17th to keep his hopes alive but agonisingly lipped out for another birdie on the last that would have forced a play-off.

"I don't know how that putt doesn't go in," Clark said.

"Even when it kind of lipped, I thought it would lip in. I'm pretty gutted it didn't go in."

Schauffele (70) paid the price for dropped shots on the 14th and 15th and also missed from seven feet for birdie on the treacherous 17th.

"It's pretty special," Scheffler told broadcaster CBS.

"It's something you don't really get the opportunity to do very often.

"It's tough enough to win one Players, so to have it back-to-back is extremely special and I'm really thankful.

"I put up a good fight for four days, Teddy (Scott, his caddie) kept me in a good head space.

"I hit a lot of good shots today, did a lot of good things this week and it's nice to come out on top."

Asked how he had coped with the neck injury he suffered during Friday's second round, Scheffler said: "I'm a pretty competitive guy and didn't want to give up in the tournament.

"I did what I could to hang around until my neck got better and then today it felt really good."

Scheffler, who won the Arnold Palmer Invitational by five shots last week, kickstarted his challenge by holing out from 92 yards for an eagle on the fourth and also birdied the fifth, eighth and ninth to race to the turn in 31.

That gave the world No.1 his first share of the lead, and although Schauffele moved back in front with birdies on the seventh and ninth, Scheffler birdied the 11th and then drove the green on the short par-four 12th to set up another.

Schauffele picked up a shot on the same hole to take the outright lead again, but Scheffler birdied the 16th to draw level before Schauffele crucially dropped shots on the 14th and 15th.

After starting his back-nine with three successive birdies, Australia's Jason Day suffered a nightmare par-4 18th hole, finishing his round with a triple-bogey seven for an even 72.

Day ended in a tie for 35th, while fellow former world No.1 Adam Scott (71) was joint 45th at four under overall, one shot ahead of Min Woo Lee (70).