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Scottie Scheffler in discomfort, contention through two days at THE PLAYERS

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    Written by Paul Hodowanic @PaulHodowanic

    PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Scottie Scheffler groaned and grimaced, the normally muted golfer in too much discomfort to maintain his zen-like state. He sat in a lawn chair behind the 14th tee with a physical trainer massaging his neck.

    Although Scheffler had the honor, having just birdied the 13th, he needed a moment. He watched as playing partners Rickie Fowler and Justin Thomas hit ahead of him. Thomas left the tee, with Scheffler still being worked on. Finally, he got out of his chair, strode to the tee – and split the fairway.

    For long stretches of the last two seasons, golf has looked easy to Scheffler. But it wasn’t on Friday, despite what his final scorecard showed, a 3-under 69 that left him 8-under for the tournament, six behind leader Wyndham Clark (65).

    Scheffler, 27, has not reported back or neck problems while winning seven times on the PGA TOUR – including the 2022 Masters Tournament and ’23 PLAYERS – and ascending to the most dominant player in golf. But he first showed signs of pain on the par-4 12th, calling for a physical trainer and requesting Biofreeze after his tee shot.

    World No. 1 Scottie Scheffler deals with injury at THE PLAYERS

    He received treatment after his birdie at the 13th hole, and received medical attention after the 14th – lying on the ground behind the bushes – and again after the 15th.

    “Yeah, I hit a shot on my second hole today (the 11th) and I felt a little something in my neck, and then I tried to hit my tee shot on 12, and that's when I could barely get the club back,” Scheffler said. “So I got some treatment, maybe it loosened up a tiny bit, but most of the day I was pretty much laboring to get the club somehow away from me.”

    Players are allowed to receive mid-round treatment, with one prominent recent example being Will Zalatoris getting his back worked on in the third round of the 2022 BMW Championship. But, a player is only allowed 15 minutes of treatment in total and must stay on pace. Scheffler received no treatment after his group was put on the clock for slow play on the 16th, so the trainer disappeared and Scheffler carried on despite being in obvious discomfort.

    The defending PLAYERS champion winced and reached for his neck, and some exaggerated footwork (even for Scheffler) suggested a hurt man trying anything he could to cobble together a swing. But beware the injured golfer, particularly if it’s the ever-dangerous world No. 1.

    Scottie Scheffler chips in for birdie at THE PLAYERS

    “The way I was getting around the course, the way my neck was feeling, I didn't know if I was going to be able to continue playing,” said Scheffler, who went to get treatment immediately after signing his scorecard. “So yeah, good fight out there.”

    Perhaps it should come as no surprise that he found a way to keep himself in contention. He’s done it nearly every week for the last two years, showing unrivaled consistency regardless of the circumstances. He turned around his stubbornly shaky putting and won by five at the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard a week ago. He will need to overcome a new challenge – his tweaked neck – to unlock his best at THE PLAYERS Championship.

    He made the turn in 2-under 34, bouncing back from a bogey on No. 14 with a birdie on No. 15. Then he birdied the par-5 second and chipped in for a birdie on the par-3 third after grimacing on his tee shot. That briefly vaulted Scheffler into the lead at 9-under, but his body relented in his closing holes while Clark surged. Scheffler nearly fell over on several tee shots in his closing holes and spent much of the walks between every shot stretching out his neck.

    He bogeyed the par-4 sixth and failed to birdie the par-5 ninth, while Clark carded a 6-under 30 on his inward nine. Still, for Scheffler a six-shot deficit is better than the alternative, withdrawing.

    “I did what I could to kind of stay in the tournament today,” he said, “and hopefully it'll loosen up and then I'll be able to make somewhat normal swings tomorrow.”

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