Scottie Scheffler reclaims world No. 1 spot with Phoenix Open defense

CNN  — 

Back-to-back titles, back on top of the golfing world – Scottie Scheffler had himself a great Super Bowl Sunday in Arizona.

The American defended his Waste Management Phoenix Open crown at TPC Scottsdale to reclaim the world No. 1 spot from Rory McIlroy, who had wrestled the position away from him in October.

Scheffler carded a final day, six-under 65 to finish 19-under for the tournament, two shots ahead of Canadian Nick Taylor and five strokes clear of Jon Rahm, the in-form Spaniard who is already chasing his third victory of 2023.

“I knew going into today it was going to be a tough day. Jon’s playing some of the best golf in the world right now, Nick’s a fantastic player and a proven winner out here,” Scheffler, who won $3.6 million in prize money, told reporters.

“I knew it was going to take a great round. Nobody was going to give this golf tournament to me, I had to go out and earn it. I was definitely proud of the result.”

Scheffler plays his shot from the ninth tee during the final round.

Victory sees Scheffler become the seventh player to defend the title and the first since Hideki Matsuyama in 2017. Triumph a year ago, via a playoff against compatriot Patrick Cantlay, sealed Scheffler’s maiden PGA Tour title and jump-started the then-world No. 15’s rapid ascension to the summit.

Just over two months later in April 2022, Scheffler was Masters champion, a three-time PGA Tour winner and world No. 1. It was a title he held for 30 weeks until October, when McIlroy’s defense of the CJ Cup saw the Northern Irishman leapfrog the American.

Yet while Scheffler had played both the Sentry Tournament of Champions and The American Express in January, finishing joint-7th and joint-11th respectively, McIlroy was making his first PGA Tour appearance of the season in Phoenix.

Despite a moment of signature genius during his first round, McIlroy’s opening two-over 73 set the tone for a frustrating week. The four-time major champion bounced back with a 67 on the second, but back-to-back 70’s saw McIlroy finish tied for 32nd at four-under.

That left him 15 shots adrift of Scheffler, who never looked back after a scintillating 64 had fired him to the front of the pack following the second round. A steady 68 on the penultimate day saw the 26-year-old carry a two-shot lead into Sunday, where a bogey-free round held off the charge of Taylor.

McIlroy plays out of a bunker during the final round.

It was a fitting finish for Scheffler, who carded just two bogeys all week despite some errant tee drives and windy conditions in Scottsdale.

“I hit some wild shots off the tee that were pretty uncharacteristic for how I usually shape the ball,” he said.

“I’ve always been really competitive and I don’t like making bogeys. I don’t enjoy that,” he added. “Any time I hit a bad shot, it’s all about how you respond because bad shots are going to come – you’re not going to play 72 holes of perfect golf.

“A lot of it is how you respond. I felt like I did a really good job of that this week, just hoping to build on it going forward.”