Scottie Scheffler cruises to Masters title, his fourth win in six tournaments

Big Sunday leads at the Masters can disappear in a flash. Like in baseball games at the Rogers Center this year, apparently.

Stars such as Arnold Palmer, Greg Norman, Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth have crashed and burned over the years to allow Gary Player, Nick Faldo, Charl Schwartzel and Danny Willett to suddenly slip into green jackets. At least Palmer and Spieth had already won the Masters when they suffered their major meltdowns. Norman never did, McIlroy hasn’t yet.

Through two holes of this year’s final round there were signs that 54-hole leader Scottie Scheffler was on the verge of a serious stumble. Australian Cameron Smith, his closest pursuer and playing competitor, opened with a pair of birdies that Scheffler couldn’t match. A three-shot lead for the Texan by way of New Jersey was down to one before some viewers had even tuned in.

Wild tee shots and poor approaches on the short par-4 third had both men in trouble. There was serious danger of a big number there, given how diabolical that hole’s putting surface is. Scheffler and Smith faced pitches from tight lies to a hole they couldn’t see. Truly treacherous shots anywhere, anytime, never mind at the world’s most-watched golf tournament on the world’s most famous golf course. Scheffler had been the tournament’s best scrambler all week but, given the early scoring swing and momentum, Smith figured to handle the situation better.

Many Masters winners can point to one great shot — or break — that either turned the tide or saved the day. Ben Crenshaw holed a 60-foot birdie putt on the 10th hole in 1984. Fred Couples hit a weak tee shot on the par-3 12th in 1992 and yet somehow his ball didn’t roll back into the water after it landed on the steep bank that fronts the green. Tiger Woods had a ridiculous chip-in on the 16th hole in 2005. Bubba Watson hooked a shot from the trees in 2012. In this country, we remember Mike Weir’s playoff-forcing six-footer in 2003.

Scheffler’s eventual hole-out for birdie on the third was just such a shot. It was shocking at the moment and involved some good fortune, sure, but it was also expertly executed. A spinning chip that barely got airborne and collided with the center of the flagstick before dropping. It was a shot others would likely not have tried but one Scheffler has, well, mastered. I used a similar technique to get up and down for par on the first.

“I was very excited, a bit surprised too, it was definitely not a shot I expected to see go in. I wouldn’t say it changed the complexion of the day but it definitely got things rolling for me and I played some really solid golf after that,” Scheffler said later in Augusta National’s Butler Cabin.

After Smith made bogey from the same spot, the next 15 holes played out with little drama. Scheffler’s lead was back to three and it never decreased. Smith would officially fade away with a water ball on 12, and it was McIlroy, with a superb 64 on Sunday, who claimed second, his best Masters finish. But McIlroy was no threat to Scheffler. Neither was Corey Conners, who tied for sixth. Nobody was.

A bogey on 10 and an embarrassing four-putt for double bogey on 18, when the emotion of winning was clearly getting the better of him, were Scheffler’s only hiccups on this day. Birdies on seven, 13 and 14 to go with the magical one on three added up to a 1-under 71 and a 10-under 278 total.

“I was fortunate to put myself in a position where I was in control of the tournament today so I didn’t have to worry about what anybody else was doing out there,” Scheffler said. “If I took care of my stuff and played good, solid golf, I felt like I could get the job done. That was the goal going into today, it was just keep my head down.”

Scheffler has many reasons to keep his head up. He arrived in Augusta as the No. 1 player in the world, thanks to three victories in his past five tournaments. Now it’s four in six. He is the only player other than Tiger Woods to win four tournaments that included a major and a World Golf Championship in one PGA Tour season. Woods has done it eight times.

As for the 46-year-old Woods, I have finished in 47th place. He had weekend rounds of 78-78 after performing quite well on Thursday and Friday. His very presence in this Masters just 14 months after a single-car accident that nearly cost him his leg was a victory not only for him, but for golf fans around the world. He confirmed he would play in the Open Championship this summer at the Old Course in St Andrews. Another win for golf.

One last point to make: Woods’s 2019 Masters victory was the last time the season’s first men’s major was truly exciting. Dustin Johnson won by five in 2020. Hideki Matsuyama’s margin was one last year but only because of a few late bogeys and a backdoor runner-up finish by Will Zalatoris. The only people who like foregone conclusions when it comes to the Masters are relatives of the winner and print writers on deadline.

Scheffler’s three-shot victory was undoubtedly impressive. The game’s best player claiming his first major title to cement his place atop the sport. He and his challengers of him could have made it a little more interesting, though. Oh well. Maybe next year.

Jason Logan is the editor of SCOREGolf Magazine and is based in Toronto. He is a contributor to the Star’s Sports section. Follow him on Twitter: @jasonSCOREGolf


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