Gary Van Sickle

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla.—We know an awful lot about zombies as a society considering they’re fictional.

Zombies like to eat brains.
They walk slowly or stagger.
And they’re hard to kill.

So is it harder to kill a zombie or keep
Scottie Scheffler out of the top five in a golf tournament?

I’ll get back to you. But I’m leaning towards Scheffler. He showed up last year at PGA Tour events, struggled with his putter and finished third or second or fourth a stunning number of times. He did win the Players Championship. When he won his Masters, you may recall that he four-putted the 72nd green, a
luxury he was afforded by having built a large lead.

There seems to be no stopping Scheffler, your official No. 1 player in the world. An ailing neck has only slowed him down here at TPC Sawgrass. Xander Schauffele leads this thing at 17 under par, one ahead of Wyndham Clark and two ahead of Brian Harman. But there he is, pain-in-the-neck Scottie Scheffler, tied for sixth. He had a lackluster round in progress until a deadline became obvious. Then Scheffler birdied 16, 17 and 18 to kinda-sorta-maybe still have a chance to become the first player to successfully defend a Players Championship title.

That seems unlikely give the number of players ahead of him and their pedigrees. Clark and Harmon won major championships last year. Matthew Fitzpatrick, one shot ahead, won a U.S. Open. And your leader, Schauffele, won an Olympic gold medal which maybe isn’t as difficult to win as a major because of the field’s lack of depth but it holds as much luster as a major because the opportunity only comes around every four years.

Plus, there’s the whole neck thing still happening. Scheffler typically hit more club than he normally would Saturday because his neck affected his swing.

“When I get the club to about halfway back, I start feeling a lot of pain in my neck,” said Scheffler, who posted a 68. “So it’s very difficult to get the club back. First, curving the ball right to left with longer clubs is very difficult because I can’t get fully turned back. I’m just using my hands a lot, trying to hit shots. I would describe it as slapping it around out there, get it somewhere near the green and hopefully get up-and-down or make some putts.”

The worst Scheffler’s neck felt was Friday at the 12 th hole. He received some treatment during that round, got more treatment after the round and said he woke up feeling better Saturday.

The origin of Scheffler’s pain sounds like an old Vaudeville joke: Doctor: “Have you ever had this pain before?” Patient: “Yes.” Doctor: “Well, you got it again.”

Scheffler said this pain came on a few times when he was in college at the University of Texas but hasn’t happened in a while. “It’s unfortunate timing,” he said. “But outside of that, it’s nothing serious. It’s just a little pain in the neck.”

He talked right through that “pain-in-the-neck” pun as if it wasn’t there. What, are we headed back to Vaudeville again? Patient: “Doc, it hurts when I do this (moves arm).” Doctor: “Then don’t do that.” (Rim shot.)

The three birdies at the end of Scheffler’s round indicate that maybe all those swings helped loosen the affected muscles/nerves/tissue. “A lot of times after an acute injury like this, waking up the next morning can be pretty tough,” he said. “This morning, I woke up feeling better than yesterday and hopefully, I’ll
feel even better tomorrow.”

That’s the good news. The bad news is he is five shots off the lead on a course that is yielding near-record scoring. It’s hard to imagine the winning score not being somewhere beyond 20 under par. Scheffler would need a 64 just to get to 20. He may already be too far behind. Harman fired an impressive 9-birdie 64 Saturday, the low round of the tournament. But if Schauffele and Clark back up or at least slow down, Scheffler is still in the running if he can take one deep.

“I was proud of how I battled out there,” Scheffler said. “I’m not on to ever give up. To finish the round the way I did and give myself a chance is very good. I’m going to use that momentum going into tomorrow.”

As for the neck injury, Scheffler said, “Stuff like this happens when you play golf.”

At least it’s his neck and not his (presumably delicious) brains.

Gary Van Sickle

Gary Van Sickle has covered golf since 1980, including 129 men’s major championships, 15 Ryder Cups and one sweet roundtrip flight on the late Concorde. His work has appeared in The Milwaukee Journal, Golf World magazine, Sports Illustrated and He is a former president of the Golf Writers Association of America. His email gvansick at aol dot com.