AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP)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 three-shot victory over Rory McIlroy.
For a guy who had won three of his previous five tournament, 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 five-shot lead on Friday and then a three-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 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 five-shot lead.
”And you saw the results of that,” he said with a laugh at his four-putt double bogey that only affected 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 three 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.
Not on Sunday. Not the last four days. Not the last 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’s won four of the last 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, three shots out of the lead, when he dumped his 9-iron in Rae’s Creek on the par-3 12th hole for triple bogey and ended 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.
Tiger Woods was finishing up about the time Scheffler was getting started, and anyone who left missed quite a show. As for Woods, he found consolation in playing four rounds in his first tournament since a February 2021 car crash shattered his right leg. He shot 78 and finished at 13-over 301, his highest 72-hole score at the Masters and furthest (23 shots) he ever finished behind the winner.
Scheffler joined Ian Woosnam in 1991 as the only players to win a major – the Masters in both cases – in their debut 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.
”He’s sort of been head and shoulders above everyone else this week,” McIlroy said.
Scheffler, who finished at 10-under 278, won $2.7 million from the $15 million prize fund. That brings his total to $8,872,200 over his last six starts.
Scheffler’s big moment came early in the round, and it was no less significant.
Starting the final round with a three-shot lead, he watched Smith open with two straight birdies to the cut the deficit to one, and 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 two-shot swing when Smith from the same position made bogey.
No one got closer than three 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.
Coming off birdie at No. 11, his shot was still in the air when he let his club slip through his hands and he slowly closed his eyes twice as it splashed into Rae’s Creek. The next shot wasn’t much better, but at least dry, and Smith’s hopes ended there with a triple bogey.
He was three behind standing on the 12th tee. Three holes later, he was eight back.
From there, any 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 only got one of those and had to settle for his first silver medal from Augusta.
Not that he didn’t create some Sunday magic. McIlroy went bunker-to-bunker on the 18th hole, leaving himself right of the green and aiming some 25 feet right of the flag. It rode the slope all the way into the hole, setting off one of the loudest roars of the week.
Morikawa followed him in from the same bunker, different angle, and McIlroy could only laugh.
”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, 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.
Scheffler still had five holes in front of him, with no evidence he was going to be anything but the smooth, smart operator who seized control on Friday in the toughest conditions to build a five-shot lead and never lost it.