Sports

Scottie Scheffler backs up No. 1 ranking, wins Masters for first major championship


AUGUSTA, Ga. — Scottie Scheffler looked like a Masters champion even before he slipped into his green jacket, the model of calm as he methodically worked his way around the most stressful course in major championship golf.

Sunday morning was different. That turned out to be the toughest test he had all day.

“I cried like a baby this morning. I was so stressed out. I didn’t know what to do,” Scheffler said after winning his first major. “I was sitting there telling [wife] Meredith, ‘I don’t think I’m ready for this’ … and I just felt overwhelmed.”

And then he capped off his torrid two-month stretch with his grandest feat of all, leading the entire weekend and strolling to a 1-under 71 — with one lapse in concentration at the end when it didn’t matter — for a 3-shot victory over Rory McIlroy.

For a guy who had won three of his previous five tournaments, who reached No. 1 in the world, why suddenly be overcome with doubt?

“I think because it’s the Masters. I dreamed of having a chance to play in this golf tournament. I teared up the first time I got my invitation in the mail,” Scheffler said.

“If you’re going to choose a golf tournament to win, this would be the tournament,” he said. “You don’t know how many chances you’re going to get. And so having a chance — I had a 5-shot lead on Friday and then a 3-shot lead going into today — I don’t know if you get better opportunities than that. You don’t want to waste them.”

He felt at peace between the ropes and never allowed himself to enjoy the moment until he took that famous walk up the 18th green, his ball 40 feet away and a 5-shot lead in hand.

“And you saw the results of that,” he said with a laugh at his four-putt double bogey that affected only the margin of victory.

McIlroy holed out from the bunker on the final hole for a record-tying final round of 64. That pulled him within 3 shots, and his only hope for the final piece of the career Grand Slam was for the Sunday pressure at Augusta National to get to Scheffler.

No chance. Not on Sunday. Not the past four days. Not the past two months.

“You get on those hot streaks, and you just got to ride them out because they, unfortunately, don’t last forever,” Justin Thomas said. “But he is doing it in the biggest tournaments. … It’s really, really impressive to see someone that young handle a moment this big so easily.”

And to think that 56 days ago, Scheffler was still trying to win his first PGA Tour title. Now he has won four of the past six he has played, the best stretch since Jason Day in the summer of 2015.

The Sunday theater, thrilling and tragic, belonged to everyone else. Scheffler overcame a nervy moment early in the round by chipping in for birdie. He delivered key putts to keep Cameron Smith at bay and never looked rattled, even as he was swatting at short putts at the end.

McIlroy was the runner-up. It was Smith who felt as though he let one get away. The Aussie was still in the game, 3 shots out of the lead, when he dumped his tee shot in Rae’s Creek on the par-3 12th hole for triple bogey, ending his hopes.

“Just a really bad swing at the wrong time,” Smith said.

Smith closed with a 73 and tied for third with Shane Lowry, who birdied the 18th for a 69.

Scheffler joined Ian Woosnam in 1991 as the only players to win a major — the Masters in both cases — in their debuts at No. 1 in the world.

Everyone should have seen this coming. He won the Phoenix Open in a playoff on Super Bowl Sunday. He followed that with a comeback win at Bay Hill to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational. He rose to No. 1 in the world by winning the Match Play two weeks ago in Texas.

And now this.

Scheffler finished at 10-under 278 and won $2.7 million from the $15 million prize fund. That brings his total to $8,872,200 over his past six starts. After being listed as a 40-1 long shot to win the Masters, Scheffler went off at 18-1 at Caesars Sportsbook. He began the fourth round as a -225 favorite.

Scheffler’s big moment came early in the round, and it was no less significant.

Starting the final round with a 3-shot lead, he watched Smith open with two straight birdies to the cut the deficit to 1. Then Scheffler’s approach from the pine needles left of the third fairway came up short and rolled back down the slope.

His pitch was racing toward the hole when it banged into the pin and dropped for an unlikely birdie, and a 2-shot swing when Smith from the same position made bogey.

No one got closer than 3 shots the rest of the way. Only the contenders changed.

The 12th hole remains the most riveting par-3 in golf, the scene of more collapses than comebacks. Smith became the latest victim.

With Smith coming off birdie at No. 11, his shot was still in the air when he let his club slip through his hands, slowly closing his eyes twice as it splashed into Rae’s Creek. The next shot wasn’t much better, but it was at least dry, and Smith’s hopes ended there with a triple bogey.

He was 3 behind standing on the 12th tee. Three holes later, he was 8 back.

From there, the only hope resided with McIlroy. All he needed to complete the career Grand Slam was to match the best final round in Masters history and get some help from Scheffler. He got only one of those and had to settle for his first silver medal from Augusta.

“This tournament never ceases to amaze,” McIlroy said. “That’s as happy as I’ve ever been on a golf course right there. Just having a chance — and then with Collin [Morikawa], we both played so well all day — and for both of us to finish like this, I was just so happy for him, too.

“I’ve never heard roars like on the 18th green.”

The best ones were saved for Scheffler.

ESPN’s David Purdum and The Associated Press contributed to this story.



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