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Scottie Scheffler cruises to victory in Hero World Challenge; Tiger Woods 18th but happy with progress

Scottie Scheffler (right) posed with the trophy and tournament host Tiger Woods after winning the Hero World Challenge.Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images,

Scottie Scheffler has made great gains in his putting. Add that to the rest of top-ranked game, and he made it look easy Sunday. He closed with a 4-under-par 68 for a three-shot victory in the Hero World Challenge at Nassau, Bahamas.

Scheffler, a runner-up in the Bahamas the last two years, played bogey-free at Albany and didn’t let anyone get closer than two shots on the back nine as he ended the year with his fifth victory worldwide.

The Hero World Challenge is an unofficial event, though its 20-man field receives world ranking points and Scheffler only solidified his spot at No. 1.

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The week wasn’t a total loss for Tiger Woods, the tournament host playing for the first time since surgery to fuse his right ankle a few weeks after the Masters in April.

Woods finished 72 holes for only the third time in the last two years. He has played six tournaments following the recovery from his February 2021 car crash in Los Angeles that badly injured his right leg.

“Just like I said to you guys on Tuesday, I’m curious ... what this is going to look like,” Woods said. “I haven’t done it in a while — I haven’t done it with my ankle the way it is now and I was excited each and every day to kind of get through it and kind of start piecing rounds together again. I haven’t done this in a long time so it was fun to feel that again.”

Woods closed with a 72 and ended up 18th at even par. Scheffler finished at 20-under 268.

Sepp Straka had three late birdies for a 64 to finish second. Justin Thomas had a 67 to finish alone in third. It was his third straight finish in the top five dating to September.

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Scheffler led the PGA Tour in just about every important statistical category — off the tee, shots to the green — until he got onto the putting surface. He sought help from highly regarded putting coach Phil Kenyon and is starting to see immediate results.

“I played solid and kept my distance,” Scheffler said. “I was just trying to hit good shots and get as many looks as I could for birdies.”

Scheffler had not played since the Ryder Cup — this was his first 72-hole tournament since the Tour Championship in late August. He said he was optimistic about the work he put in with Kenyon before the Ryder Cup.

“It’s nice to see some fast results,” Scheffler said. “It’s paid off pretty good this week.”

Scheffler didn’t make his first birdie until he chipped close on the par-5 sixth and then pitched up the slope on the drivable par-4 seventh to 2 feet.

Straka, Thomas, and Jordan Spieth at times were poised to make a run. Scheffler answered with birdies at the right time to hold them off. He missed a birdie putt on the 17th from just inside 3 feet. It was his only miss inside 5 feet all week.

Woods was never in the mix after each round, which was not the primary objective. He knew there would be rust, and he felt he knocked a little off each day. But not all of it. He had a pitch roll back toward his feet on the par-3 second hole for a double bogey, and he hit another poor chip that led to bogey on the par-5 11th.

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Woods remained optimistic he could play one tournament a month in 2024.

“If you ask me right now, I’m a little bit sore,” he said. “Once a month seems reasonable. It gives me a couple of weeks to recover. Maybe I can get into a rhythm. That’s what the plan was going into next year. I don’t see why that would change.”

European — Joaquin Niemann of Chile beat Japan’s Rikuya Hoshino on the second playoff hole to win the Australian Open men’s title on a wild final day in Sydney.

Niemann made an eagle at the second extra hole after a number of contenders slipped away on the back nine due to gusting winds at The Australian course.

Starting the day four shots behind, Niemann — one of the big-name signings of the breakaway LIV Golf league — produced an excellent final-round 5-under-par 66 to finish at 14-under 271 as he surged up the leaderboard and took the clubhouse lead.

Hoshino, who was runner-up to Min Woo Lee at last week’s Australia PGA Championships, made a number of clutch putts on the final holes and closed with a 70 to make the playoff at 14 under.

Lee shot 72 and finished in third at 12 under after a frustrating day on the greens extinguished his hopes of winning in back-to-back weeks, despite sharing the overnight lead with Hoshino.

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Former world No. 1 Adam Scott looked to be surging to an unlikely victory as he climbed to 14 under and into the outright lead with three holes remaining, but played his tee shot out of bounds on the par-4 seventh — after starting his round on the 10th — and was forced to settle for a triple bogey. Scott finished tied for fourth with England’s Laurie Carter (68) and Grant Forrest (68) of Scotland three shots behind the leaders at 11 under at the tournament that featured men’s and women’s fields and was played in a two-venue format.

Earlier, Ashleigh Buhai held off a fast-finishing Minjee Lee to become the first woman to win back-to-back Australian Open titles since five-time major champion Yani Tseng in 2011.

Buhai made 15 pars and three bogeys for a 75 to finish at 9-under 280 and one-stroke ahead of Lee in a nervy finish for the 34-year-old South African.

Trailing by four shots with five holes to play, Lee cut Buhai’s lead to just one heading to the last after the 2022 British Open champion found the water on the 17th.

However, a two-putt for par on No. 18 was enough for Buhai as Lee couldn’t find a ninth birdie in her excellent round of 69 in the challenging conditions.

European — Dean Burmester secured back-to-back wins at home after shooting a 4-under 68 in the final round of the South African Open Championship at Johannesburg.

Burmester started the day two shots off the lead. He made six birdies and two bogeys in tricky conditions to finish at 11 under overall for a three-stroke victory. He won the Joburg Open last week.

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Italian Renato Paratore (70), Sweden’s Jesper Svensson (71) and South African Ryan van Velzen (73) tied for second.

Van Velzen shared the overnight lead with countryman Jayden Schaper (74), who finished tied for fifth on 7 under.