The world’s best golfer tamed the Masters and left the field far behind

The world’s best golfer tamed the Masters and left the field far behind

Tooba Shakir 54 years ago 0 1

AUGUSTA, Ga. — On the 18th green on the final day of this Masters, Scottie Scheffler, so steady and so determined, finally allowed himself a smile, lifting both hands into the air and bellowing toward the sky. It was bottled-up relief and excitement, for sure, but for the sports world, it served as an unmistakable pronouncement: Golf has a transcendent champion on its hands, the kind of talent who feels miles ahead of anyone else.

Scheffler, 27, is no longer on the doorstep to golf stardom. He has kicked down the door, taken off his shoes and plopped himself into the best seat in the house. He’s a no-frills, understated Texan, but everything he does with a golf club seems to demand exclamation points: the booming drives, the pinpoint iron play, the soft touch with the wedge and an improved putting game.

As only he can do, Scheffler zapped Sunday’s final round of any suspense but still provided plenty of theatrics, putting on a stunning show at Augusta National Golf Club and muzzling any would-be challengers.

The final numbers: a 4-under-par 68 in the final round, putting him at 11 under for the tournament, four shots better than anyone else. He held off Ludvig Aberg, the 24-year old playing in his first major. The Swedish wunderkind shot a 3-under 69 Sunday and finished four shots off the lead. Collin Morikawa, Max Homa and Tommy Fleetwood finished tied for third at 4 under.

“I can’t put into words what it means to win this tournament again,” Scheffler told CBS in a Butler Cabin interview.

Scheffler put on a 72-hole clinic that felt both mesmerizing and inevitable at every turn. Just consider an hour-long stretch near the middle of Sunday’s round. As the final groups neared the turn, four players were tied for the lead at 7 under: Scheffler, Aberg, Morikawa and Homa. On the ninth fairway, Scheffler grabbed a wedge that doubled as a magic wand. From 89 yards out, he lofted a shot about 20 feet past the hole, sheer wizardry and backspin drawing the ball toward the hole, missing the cup by only an inch or so.

The tap-in birdie put all the momentum at Scheffler’s back.

“It was nice to get that feeling of hitting a really well-struck shot, and then it set me up to have a really nice back nine,” he said.

That four-way tie atop the leader board crumbled. Barely an hour had passed, and Scheffler was all alone, three shots ahead of the field and pointed to another green jacket ceremony.

While he was the heavy favorite coming into the tournament, the final nail came on No. 14, where Scheffler’s approach shot from 153 yards out caught the ridge behind the hole and slowly trickled toward the hole, coming to a stop just two feet away. It would be one of seven birdies on Scheffler’s card Sunday. Even his three bogeys Sunday barely slowed him down. To hear his competitors tell it, Scheffler’s iron play is unmatched, but he’s also mentally leaps and bounds ahead of peers.

“He is pretty amazing at letting things roll off his back and stepping up to very difficult golf shots and treating them like their own,” said Homa. “He’s obviously a tremendous talent, but I think that is his superpower.”

Technically, Jon Rahm, the defending champ, slipped the jacket on Scheffler on Sunday evening, but everyone on the leader board played a supporting role in giving it to him. Scheffler was, of course, steady down the stretch — he played the back nine in 3 under; only two other players were better over the course of 18 holes Sunday.

Meanwhile, Aberg found himself lost in water on No. 11, Homa was lost in the bushes on No. 12, and Morikawa was lost on the scoreboard for a chunk of the afternoon, posting two double-bogeys in a three-hole stretch.

“It’s a fine balance between being aggressive to the right spots and not being overly aggressive,” Aberg said. “Because you can put yourself in some really tough, tricky spots.”

The only person who could have stopped Scheffler, in fact, was some 900 miles away. Scheffler and his wife, Meredith, are expecting their first child. With a due date in a few weeks, Meredith stayed home this weekend, and Scheffler said that he would withdraw from the Masters if she happened to go into labor during Sunday’s final round.

He had sorted through the logistics and had a plan in place if the phone rang. Would she actually call mid-round?

She better call,” Scheffler said following his round Saturday.

The world’s top-ranked player now finds himself in a class of one. Sure, the Masters’ storied ledger will show that Scheffler has plenty of company in the Champions Locker Room. Seventeen others, after all, have also won at least two championships here.

But the chapter on Scheffler has much more to be written. Scheffler won his championship in just his fifth appearance at Augusta National — the fewest of any two-time winner. Only three were younger than him by time they won No. 2: Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods and Seve Ballesteros, golf royalty each of them.

Since winning that first title as a baby-faced 25-year-old, Scheffler has separated himself from the field, giving the sport the kind of singular force that it really hasn’t had since Woods. The speculation hasn’t focused on whether Scheffler would win another major but on how many.

The only things separating him from the greats are longevity and more majors. The talent, ability and mental strength — he has it all. The game’s best player once again won the sport’s biggest event. The lone question remaining: What’s next?

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