AUGUSTA, Ga. — He just didn’t give anyone else a chance.
Scottie Scheffler continued his wonderful run of golf Sunday at Augusta National, making important par saves when needed, chipping in for a birdie when he wasn’t expecting it, and all the while keeping a sleeve in that coveted green jacket.
Scheffler, who opened the day by a three-shot lead over Australia’s Cameron Smith, finished with a one-under-71 to win the 86th Masters and claim his first major title. He finished 10th under the overall standings, three ahead of Rory McIlroy, who rocketed up the rankings by setting a last-lap record of 64.
Sunday at the Masters was a final pairing that featured two of the game’s hottest players. Scheffler has come up with three wins in his last five starts, and the most recent, at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, made him world No. 1.
Meanwhile, Smith, 28, had wins in two of his last four PGA Tour starts and a win at the Players Championship, the biggest of his career and one that ranked him No. 6 in the world.
It came as no surprise that neither of them slowed down in Augusta as they both chased the first major title of their careers. And it was supposed to be a two man race, maybe three if you thought Sungjae Im, who started on day five, had a chance.
But then came McIlroy.
The world No. 9 hasn’t won a major since back-to-back Open Championship and PGA Championship wins in 2014 to win his third and fourth, and he only needs an elusive Masters title to become the sixth player , who manages the career grand slam.
He started 10 strokes from the lead on Sunday but made birdies on 1, 3, 7 and 8 to turn 32. He chipped for a birdie on a 10 and added an eagle on the par-5 13th to get under seven on his round. which not only caught the attention of the last pairing, but also sparked gossip about him threatening the Masters course record of 10 under 63. The Eagles at 13 put McIlroy to six under the standings, one behind Smith and five behind Scheffler while they played the 9th hole.
McIlroy teeed off 50 minutes before the final pairing. When Scheffler and Smith took the tee shot at 2:40 p.m., it was Smith who had the early advantage.
He birdied on 1 and 2 to reduce Scheffler’s lead to one, but both players ran into trouble on the short par 4 third hole and it was an important turning point. Both went wide to the left of the fairway and hit their approaches just short of the green, landing in almost identical spots. But Scheffler chipped his chip for an unlikely birdie, and Smith couldn’t pace and bogeyed. The lead was three again.
“After that I just started cruising,” says Scheffler. “I was comfortable with pretty much most aspects of my game. My swing might feel a little off, but other than that, I feel like I’d never really bogey. That was my goal. I was just trying to get good shots and that’s really all I was thinking about.”
Smith also bogeyed the fourth, and both players birdied on 7s. On the turn, Scheffler led a treacherous run through Amen Corner with 11 under, Smith with 7 under, and McIlroy with 6 under. Nobody else had a chance.
Scheffler and Smith both got into trouble on 10 and made bogeys, although Smiths was more prone to stabbing – he missed a four-foot over the hole and gave up a chance to regain a shot after Scheffler finished.
McIlroy, at six-under, had to use the last par-5, the 15th, to stand a good chance of catching Scheffler, but a poor drive forced him to hit – eliminating any chance of trying in two. was eliminated – and his approach missed the green. He failed at birdie and settled for a disappointing par but fell four behind.
Smith recovered with a birdie on 11 and Scheffler rolled an important par from two yards to keep his lead on three as they headed to the short par-3 12, the same hole that gave Jordan Spieth’s Masters chances in 2016 ruined.
But this time it was the pursuer – Smith – who was derailed by Rae’s Creek.
Smith threw his tee shot in the water and sent a wedge across the green after his drop. He made a triple bogey. Scheffler missed the green well to the left but rolled in a clutch nine-foot to save par again.
Scheffler stayed under at 10, four ahead of McIlroy and six ahead of Smith.
And then? McIlroy had one final charge. After four straight pars, he went from the fairway bunker to the greenside bunker on the 18th – and then holed it for a birdie. The patrons – and McIlroy – went ballistic.
McIlroy shot 64, setting a tournament record to take the clubhouse lead to seven under. Scheffler, who narrowly missed his birdie putt at 13 but held par, had five holes and a three-shot lead.
Print? No not at all. At least not until the last green.
Scheffler birdied on 14 and 15. He made two putts for par on 16 and allowed just one kick-in for par on 17. Walking up the fairway on the 72nd hole, he led the world’s greatest golf tournament by nearly half a dozen shots, he fought back tears. His wife Meredith let them flow. His only blemish this week? A bizarre double bogey with four putts on the 18. It hardly mattered at that point.
It wasn’t going to be easy, his first Masters win on his third visit to Augusta National. Maybe it wasn’t. He just made it look like it.