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Miscues foiled early-group Sunday challengers

Miscues foiled early-group Sunday challengers

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — For golfers named Hatton, Homa, Hovland or Hideki, happy days were ready to holler hello at the 2023 Players Championship.

But all it took was a hiccup or two to halt their Sunday charges shy of the leaderboard’s peak.

A shanked chip. A disappointing drive. A too-close encounter with the lurking liquid at the famed island green.

One by one, the early challenges to Scottie Scheffler’s dominant final round faded away Sunday against the full force of the Players Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass.

“That is frustrating because I thought I executed, but that is 17 at The Players Championship,” said Max Homa, who overshot the island green to spoil his bid for victory.

A collection of golfers with 18 combined PGA Tour wins – Tyrrell Hatton, Max Homa, Viktor Hovland, Hideki Matsuyama – started more than an hour and a half before Scheffler teed off. All of them, at one point, seemed set to mount a challenge for the trophy. Whether denied by wind, water or sand, all fell short.

Literally short, in the case of Hatton’s drive at the 603-yard, par-5 ninth. Hatton tried a 3-wood off the tee, but the ball found the water hazard toward the right. He eventually made bogey at the hole.

“I was struggling with a block fade, which it’s just not a nice shot to have on a left-to-right wind. I was trying to be aggressive off the tee,” said Hatton, who at the time was 6 under for the tournament and 1 under for the round.

Hatton transformed into a golf machine thereafter, but never advanced closer than two strokes to Scheffler in spite of a record-shattering close: birdies on 10, 12 and the final five holes, a back-nine 29. Finishing second overall, he tied the back-nine course records of Kevin Chappell, Shane Lowry and Rory McIlroy from the 2016 Players. Lowry notched his mark in the first round, while Chappell and McIlroy achieved theirs in the second.

Matsuyama misfires at 14

The first and apparently most serious early-group threat came from Matsuyama, Masters champion in 2021, and his barrage of birdies at Nos. 3, 6, 8, 9 and then Nos. 11, 12 and 13. At one point he shaved the lead to one stroke.

But on the par-4 14th, he misjudged an approach from 204 yards and the wind made him pay. His ball drifted right, struck a hill and rolled across a cart path…


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