Scottie Scheffler is a major champion after a stunning four days at Augusta, but Rory McIlroy and his legions of fans are once again left wondering what might have been
When Scottie Scheffler was asked how he was going to spend his Saturday night, the Masters leader said he was probably just going to grab some takeout and watch The Office with his wife Meredith. “We’re about halfway through season four.” It’s about as relatable as any of us will get to comfortably the finest golfer on the planet right now.
It’s been some year for Scheffler. He finished in the top 10 in three of the majors before shooting just the 12th sub-60 round in PGA Tour history. He crept in the back door at the Ryder Cup, where he earned two and a half points in the USA’s record-smashing victory at Whistling Straits, including a singles victory over then World No 1 Jon Rahm.
As the calendar ticked over into 2022, Scheffler wasted no time in taking his game to the next level. And how.
In his 75th start, he won his first title.
In his 77th start, he won his second.
In his 79th start, he won his third and dislodged Rahm at the top of the rankings.
And now, in his 80th PGA Tour start, he’s a major champion and in possession of a lifetime invite to Augusta National.
Any kind of a lead here is never safe – just ask Greg Norman (don’t, it really winds him up) – and when the only player you’re ahead of in the form table is hunting you down, three will have felt like nothing.
When they walked off the 2nd green, Cameron Smith’s back to back birdies had moved him within one.
Then, absurd scenes at the 3rd. Both Scheffler and Smith hooked their tee shots into the trees, then there was a lengthy delay as the players had to call in the rules officials to make some checks. Scheffler played his approach first and left it short. Way short. But then, with the opportunity to draw level at the top of the leaderboard, Smith inexplicably did exactly the same.
What happened next set the tone for the rest of the round. Scheffler bumped one up the hill and, at pace, his ball cannoned into the flagstick and dropped.
Smith took the high road and made bogey, and from then on was forced to take risks as Scheffler ground it out from one hole to the next.
Then, at 12, it all ended. Smith, flag-hunting, dunked his ball in Rae’s Creek, made a triple, and his race had run.
Suddenly, the Australian wasn’t Scheffler’s biggest problem.
Have you heard the one about Rory McIlroy making a late charge having already played himself out of the tournament?
Of course you have. It’s a classic.
McIlroy had the perfect opportunity to slip under the radar on Thursday, as the world fawned over Tiger Woods’ minor miracle.
And he was ticking along nicely until a three-putt from 16 feet at the 14th derailed him.
It took him until Sunday to get over it. And how.
Birdies at the 1st, 3rd, 7th and 8th made us sit up and start paying attention. Another gain at 10, followed by an eagle at 13 had us dreaming.
A run of pars – including, most dissapointingly, at the short 14th and par-5 15th – brought us all back down to earth, but there was still time for an all-time Masters moment at 18.
Having found the fairway bunker up the last, McIlroy needed a Sandy Lyle moment to make birdie. Instead, he pumped it into the green-side trap.
Then he did this.
Let’s just watch it over and over and over again— National Club Golfer (@NCG_com) April 10, 2022
How many times did you watch it in a row? Think my highest streak was 15 at one point.
Everything about it was perfect. The execution, the anticipation, the unbridled joy, the hilariously bad celebration. This is a special Masters moment of our lifetime. Soak it in.
Imagine if that was for him to win.
It meant a Sunday 64 – one shy of the record shared by Nick Price and Greg Norman – and the joint lowest ever carded in the final round at Augusta.
At this point, champion-elect Scheffler had yet to go through Amen Corner. We all know what can happen at 12 – as Jordan Spieth will attest. In the end, the World No 1 navigated golf’s most famous run of holes expertly, and was so far ahead on the final green he could afford a four putt.
You can’t fault his commitment to relatable content.
As for McIlroy and his legions of fans, it really is the hope that kills you. But we’ll be back next year to watch him put us through the wringer for a 15th time. The main concern is that, while he can tear Augusta apart for one or two days a year, there’s always going to be an up-and-comer just ahead of him. The talent pool is ludicrously deep.
For Scheffler though, he needed just three attempts to slip into that Green Jacket.
So what’s next?
“I’m a little tired,” he told Jim Nantz in the Butler Cabin. “I just want to go home.” Well, he has got plenty of episodes of The Office to get through.
Whether Scheffler is a flash in the pan or golf’s next big superstar, we’ve witnessed something truly special these past few weeks.
World No 1s to win the Masters
Ian Woosnam (1991)
Fred Couples (1992)
Tiger Woods (2001 and 2002)
Dustin Johnson (2020)
Scottie Scheffler (2022)