AUGUSTA, Go. – It would have been understandable if Scottie Scheffler, who was the epitome of balance as he stormed to No. 1 in men’s golf this year, felt a little nervous during the opening hour of Sunday’s final round of the Masters Tournament. The three-stroke lead he had over his closest pursuer, Cameron Smith, when the day started had dwindled to a single shot in the first two holes.
Worse for Scheffler, on the par-4 third hole, he jerked his tee shot into the trees and then failed to get a throw on the elevated green, his ball rolling backwards to a perilous spot below it. pit surface.
Would Smith only need three holes to catch Scheffler? Would the typically calm Scheffler, with his everyday nonchalance, succumb to the pressure?
Anyone who paid attention to this year’s PGA Tour, a circuit that Scheffler has dominated since February, might have predicted what happened next. Scheffler took a bold, aggressive line and confidently chipped into the hole for birdie. Smith would make a bogey.
Over the next few hours, Scheffler, 25, turned down every challenge with the same confidence to claim his first major championship, running away to win the 2022 Masters by three strokes. His margin of victory would have been greater had it not been for his nerves in the tournament’s closing series on the 18th green, when Scheffler needed four putts, including three under five feet, to finish a round of 71. to close. Scheffler finished 10 under par for the tournament, in just his third Masters appearance.
Rory McIlroy, who trailed Scheffler 10 strokes into the final lap, finished second on an eight-under-par 64. Smith and Shane Lowry were third, five strokes off the lead.
Speaking to reporters after donning the ceremonial green jacket awarded to the Masters winners, Scheffler spoke of feeling calm on the trail on the final lap, but said he was “so stressed” on Sunday morning.
“I cried like a baby,” he said. “I was so overwhelmed.” Scheffler added that he told his wife, Meredith, “I don’t think I’m ready for this.”
Scheffler said he couldn’t recall any previous episodes of self-doubt and attributed it to an understanding of how much winning the Masters would mean to him. “I’ve felt peace on the golf course,” he said with a laugh. “It’s off the track that I find it difficult. But I did well to keep my concentration while playing. I immediately calmed down when I got to the golf course.”
For Scheffler, a New Jersey native who grew up in Texas, it was the fourth win in his last six events, a staggering win percentage in a sport with tournament fields of more than 130 players.
In February, Scheffler won the Phoenix Open. A few weeks later, he finished first at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and won a World Golf Championships Match Play event late last month. From the first win, it took Scheffler only 42 days to climb to the number 1 position.
Despite his recent successes, Scheffler has remained an unknown to casual sports fans, having not yet won a touring event for this year. But last season there were signs that Scheffler was beginning to find his rhythm at the highest level of men’s competitive golf. In the last three majors of that season, he finished in a tie for eighth at the British Open, seventh at the US Open and eighth at the PGA Championship.
Like Smith, Scheffler belongs to a new generation of younger golfers who regularly become tour winners. The top seven golfers in the world’s golf rankings for men are 30 years of age or younger.
McIlroy, who has won all major golf championships except the Masters, was not expected to be part of the late-round heroics on Sunday. He had broken par in just one of his first three rounds. But with birdies on two of his first three holes, McIlroy suddenly looked more comfortable than on any recent final round of the Masters. He shot a four-under 32 in his first nine holes, then roared to the back nine with birdies on the 10th hole and an eagle on the par-5 13th, taking him to six under par – just four strokes behind Scheffler, who played several groups behind McIlroy.
McIlroy continued his hot streak with three consecutive pairs, but failed to take advantage of the par-5 15th hole, which can often be reached in two shots. Instead, McIlroy settled for par, a score he also made on the 16th and 17th holes.
But McIlroy had one last, unforeseen bloom. He sent his approach shot to the 18th green in a bunker to its right, but then gloated a splash from the sand onto the putting surface and watched as the ball crossed a swallow over the green and finally sank into the cup for a birdie.
McIlroy, who hasn’t had much to celebrate in the closing moments of a Masters, threw his wedge in the sand and put both arms over his head.
Minutes after McIlroy drilled into his bunker shot, his playing companion, Collin Morikawa, shot out of the same danger and his shot sank. The two left the green area arm in arm.
While McIlroy was on the rise, Smith also made another run on Scheffler with a birdie on the 11th hole that kept Scheffler’s lead by three strokes. Next up was the crucial and diabolical par-3 12th hole, where the tournament is often decided and where tournament leaders for decades have watched their title dreams drown in the hole’s small but dangerous water hazard.
Smith had the honor on the tee, which he took off in front of Scheffler. He seemed eager to apply pressure. But Smith’s 9 iron instantly faded from the face and was caught in the fickle winds swirling around Amen Corner. Smith bowed his head in disappointment when his golf ball landed in front of the green in Rae’s Creek – to the right of the flag, which is the most common spot for a failed 12th-hole tee shot on a thrilling Masters Sunday.
Scheffler missed the green, but he kept his tee shot dry and then chipped to less than 10 feet before sinking a nervous par putt. Smith made a triple bogey and slipped way down in the standings.
“Probably the worst swing of the week for me,” Smith said of his tee shot on the 12th hole. “And at the worst possible time.”
Scheffler later extended his lead over Smith and McIlroy with a birdie on the 14th hole created by a spectacular approach shot. Then, on the par-5 15th hole, Scheffler fired his second shot around a grove of pine trees to clear the pond in front of the green and set up one final birdie.
As for his setback in making the final hole, Scheffler took it to heart.
“Like I said, I haven’t broken my concentration all day; the only time I did that was on the 18th green,” he said with a smile. “I thought I could enjoy this now. And you saw what happened.”