Scheffler paired with Fowler, Thomas at The Players

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Scottie Scheffler will begin his defense at The Players Championship paired alongside fellow Americans Rickie Fowler and Justin Thomas for the first two rounds.

Coming off a dominating victory at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, where he beat the entire field by two strokes on Sunday, Scheffler is the first defending champion to arrive at TPC Sawgrass as the top-ranked player in the world since Rory McIlroy in 2020. The event was ultimately canceled that year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Scheffler will begin his quest for a repeat in the afternoon wave on Thursday, teeing off in at 1:40 p.m. ET in one of the marquee pairings released Monday. The trio will tee off at 8:35 a.m. on Friday. Fowler won the Players in 2015 while Thomas claimed the trophy three years ago.

Thursday’s afternoon wave will include other marquee groups comprised of defending U.S. Open champion Wyndham Clark playing with fellow former champions Collin Morkikawa and Brian Harman, while young American stars Tony Finau and Will Zalatoris will play with former Open champion Shane Lowry.

McIlroy is coming off a disappointing Sunday at Bay Hill, where he stumbled to a final-round 76. Rather than grab his opportunity to reclaim the No. 1 ranking, McIlroy saw the distance between him and Scheffler grow further with a tie for 21st.

The 2019 champion finished T33 at last year’s Players. He will tee off at 8:35 a.m. on Thursday in a featured group along with Jordan Spieth and Norway’s Viktor Hovland.

Also teeing off in the morning wave of the opening round will be the group of Patrick Cantlay, 2004 Players champion Adam Scott and rising Swedish star Ludvig Aberg.

They will all be looking to get off to a fast start to put pressure on Scheffler, the +500 pre-tournament favorite at DraftKings and +550 favorite at BetMGM.

“Everybody, I guess, now is kind of looking up at me at the top of the rankings and trying to take me down, so in order to stay up there, you got to put in a lot of work,” Scheffler said on Sunday.