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Players Championship

Players Championship: One reason why every contender at TPC Sawgrass will win, and one reason they won't

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March 16, 2024

The shots were so good on Saturday, the drama so compelling and the late-afternoon light so perfect on TPC Sawgrass' hearty closing stretch, it’s a shame they weren’t playing the final round of the 50th Players Championship.

Xander Schauffele was five strokes back of Wyndham Clark after the first hole of the third round, only to grind his behind off—and go bogey-free in shooting a seven-under-par 65. That gives the World No. 6 a one-shot lead over Clark, the World No. 5 who slightly wobbled to a two-under 70 but saved his round and maybe his tournament with a gritty bogey at 17 after his horribly chunked tee ball ended up 20 yards short in the water.

The beauty of how the final round sets up is that there are eight players six shots or closer to the lead, and that number is important, because the largest Players deficit ever overcome was the six shots by Raymond Floyd in his 1981 playoff win that ended on a Monday.

The chasing group behind Schauffele at 17 under includes major winners from the past two years—Clark, Brian Harman (who charged Saturday with a 64), Matt Fitzpatrick (68) and the injured but resilient Scottie Scheffler (68).

We can probably all agree: This is the leaderboard we’ve been starving for in the PGA Tour’s signature events this season.

Here is a look at the contenders, with thoughts on while they will win, and why they won’t.

Xander Schauffele (17 under)

Why he’ll win: No one is more due to climb another important rung on the career ladder than the X-man, whose two gaps in an otherwise stellar résumé are a Players title and triumph in a major after some achingly close calls. This feels like a prime opportunity to prove he can close the deal.

Why he won’t win: See above. There’s probably not a guy who’ll feel more pressure standing on the first tee on Sunday morning. The stakes seem inordinately high.

Wyndham Clark (16 under)

Why he’ll win: Far less seasoned on the big stage than Schauffele, Clark seized his first major in last year’s U.S. Open and has been on something of a roll since; he has two wins and a runner-up this season in signature events. He knows he can beat anybody out there.

Why he won’t win: That horrible chunk Clark hit at 17 on Saturday—that was pure nerves taking over, which means he’s not immune to anxiety in the big arena. The putting has been scary strong (Clark leads the field in that department), but it’s tough to stay hot for four rounds.

Brian Harman (15 under)

Why he will win: Another guy whose self-belief has gone to another level after his own major victory in last summer’s Open Championship. After a nine-birdie 64 on Saturday, the avid hunter has to love his stalking position, and no one in the field has hit more greens in regulation.

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David Cannon

Why he won’t win: Harman hasn’t been great in final rounds this year; he ranks 84th with a 69.60 scoring average. At two shots back, he’ll have to close with something better than that.

Matt Fitzpatrick (13 under)

Why he will win: The 2022 U.S. Open champ produced the week’s most amazing revelation about playing a year with an extra weight in his driver. The story is made all the better in that Fitzpatrick is leading the field in SG/off the tee this week and is No. 2 in driving distance. That’s a strong combo around all that water at TPC Sawgrass.

Why he won’t win: Despite the strong driving, Fitzpatrick has hit only 66 percent of the greens, so he’s playing with fire with all of the trouble Sawgrass offers.

Maverick McNealy (13 under)

Why he will win: This has been a season of underdog winners, and the Stanford grad fits that mold, with no victories yet in 121 PGA Tour starts.

Why he won’t win: He’s surrounded by too many guys who already know how to get it done.

Sahith Theegala (12 under)

Why he will win: The results are building and popularity growing for the former top college player at Pepperdine. Theegala had his maiden tour victory in 2023 and already has three top-10s this season. He’s on the cusp of something great.

Why he won’t win: The short game would have to be better. Though No. 2 in SG/putting, Theegala is only 61 percent at scrambling and 40 percent in sand saves.

Scottie Scheffler (12 under)

Why he will win: Because he’s No. 1 in the world for reason, and he’s showing remarkable grit in playing through a neck injury first suffered on Friday. Early Saturday, it looked like Scheffler might not be able to finish a round and he ended up shooting 68.

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Sam Greenwood

Why he won’t win: The pain in his neck is a pain to his game, and he just can’t overcome it.

Nate Lashley (11 under)

Why he will win: The 41-year-old qualifies as the hungriest contender, with one tour win (2019 Rocket Mortgage) in 148 starts. And Lashley has to feel good about his birdie-birdie-birdie finish on Saturday.

Why he won’t win: Only one golfer has overcome a six-shot hole at the Players, and there are too many younger studs to climb past.