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Wyndham Clark putt lips out to hand Players Championship title to Scottie Scheffler

Wyndham Clark
Clark could not believe that his clutch putt did not drop - AP/Marta Lavandier

It was always going to take something dramatic to divert the focus from Monday’s crunch meeting between the top PGA Tour pros and the Saudis and poor Wyndham Clark certainly provided it with a £3.5 million horseshoe on the final green at The Players Championship.

The US Open champion’s 18-footer that would have enforced a play-off with Scottie Scheffler seemed destined to drop and Clark had his arm cocked, ready to produce the fistpump. Yet in the final revolutions the ball caught the lip and enacted the cruel 360 back towards the stricken American.

As Clark held his head in his hands, Scheffler celebrated on the driving range – where he was warming up for a potential three-hole shootout – as he became the first golfer in the 50-year history of The Players to retain his title.

This was his second victory in as many Sundays and marks the world No 1 as the overwhelming favourite for The Masters. “It’s tough enough to win one Players, so to have it back-to-back is extremely special, and yeah, I’m really thankful,” Scheffler said.

Despite suffering from a neck injury that he sustained during the second round, Scheffler stormed through the field with a brilliant eight-under 64. Starting five behind Xander Schauffele, Scheffler holed his second from the fairway on the par-four fourth and from there reeled off six birdies.

“I’m a pretty competitive guy, and I didn’t want to give up in the tournament,” he said. “I did what I could to hang around until my neck got better. Today it felt really good.”

On 20-under he waited to see if any of his pursuers could catch him and after birdieing the 16th and 17th, Clark came to the par-four 18th needing a three on the famous Stadium Course.

How it stayed above ground nobody who saw it will ever know, including most painfully of all, Clark, himself. “I’m beside myself,” Clark said. “I’m shocked and gutted. I don’t know how that putt doesn’t go in.”

Clark had to be content with a £1.5 million payout and a share for second with Schauffele and reigning Open champion Brian Harman.  England’s Matt Fitzpatrick put in a fine top-five performance, shooting a 69 to finish on 16-under. However, but for five Sunday bogeys it would have been so much better for the 2022 US Open champion.

ory McIlroy was never in contention although with 26 birdies - the second most ever at Sawgrass -  there were definitely enough highlights. Alas, 11 bogeys and three double-bogeys also littered his four scorecards as he finished in a tie for 19th. The lowlights killed him.

The world No 2 cut a sanguine figure afterwards, expressing positivity that he can rid his game of the gremlins in time for Augusta, where he will once again attempt to complete the grand slam.

Tiger Woods expected at crunch talks

McIlroy was also optimistic about the face-to-face of the six Tour playing directors  with Yasir Al-Rumayyan, the governor of the £600bn Public Investment Fund and chairman of LIV.

“This should have happened months ago, so I am glad it’s happening,” McIlroy said. “Hopefully it progresses conversations and gets us closer to a solution.”

Since the reports of a meeting emerged on Friday there has been speculation if Woods will travel from South Florida to join the get-together that is believed to be happening near to the Stadium Course.

The 15-time major winner has never met Al-Rumayyan and Telegraph Sport reported on Saturday that insiders believe it is vital that Woods does show up if PIF is to be convinced to call off the LIV hostilities that only three months ago saw Jon Rahm signed for a deal worth upwards of £400million.

McIlroy also feels it is crucial that Woods, his neighbour and friend, is around the table. “I mean, he’s a player director, he’s on the board, so absolutely he needs to be involved,” McIlroy said.

After being LIV’s most vocal critic for the first 18 months of the issue that ripped through golf’s previously serene fairways, the Northern Irishman has recently been telling anyone who will listen - and many who do not want to - that they should not presume LIV is cast in Al Rummayan’s image, despite PIF launching and bankrolling the breakaway league.

McIlroy namechecked LIV chief executive Greg Norman in his LIV put-down that will make him even less popular amongst the majority of the rebels.

“I have spent time with Yasir and the people that have represented him in LIV I think have done him a disservice, so Norman and those guys,” McIlroy said. “I see the two entities, and I think there’s a big disconnect between PIF and LIV. I think you got PIF over here and LIV are over there doing their own thing. So the closer we can get to Yasir, PIF and hopefully finalise that investment, I think that will be a really good thing.”

McIlroy was asked to expand on this theory. “Look, they’re a sovereign wealth fund,” McIlroy said. “They want to park money for decades and not worry about it. They want to invest in smart and secure businesses, and the PGA is definitely one of those.”

And the difference between LIV and the PIF supremo? “Their disruptiveness, and then I guess his desire to be involved in the world of golf in a productive way,” McIlroy said.

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