Scottie Scheffler won the Masters by five … no, four … no, three shots Sunday, leaving little doubt through 17 holes before nerves finally got to him on the 18th green.
That’s when he four-putted.
If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again.
Fortunately for Scheffler, he had built a comfortable cushion, despite a surging Rory McIlroy turning in the round of his life under cloudless skies.
An eight-under-par 64 by McIlroy — the tournament’s only bogey-free round of the week — couldn’t unseat Scheffler, who finished at 10-under 278 and has won four times since Super Bowl Sunday.
That’s when he picked up his first career win, a landmark day for Highland Park High in Dallas, considering Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford went there too.
Scheffler, 25, has been living in fast-forward since then, as he rocketed from zero career victories to the world No. 1 ranking March 27 in an astounding 42 days. He is the fifth top-ranked golfer to win the Masters, joining Ian Woosnam (1991), Fred Couples (1992), Tiger Woods (2001, 2002) and Dustin Johnson (2020).
With the sun setting behind the Georgia pines, a smiling Scheffler removed his cap and smoothed his hair as he walked up the 18th fairway, soaking in the standing ovation of the cheering gallery. Behind the green sat his wife, Meredith, wiping away tears of joy.
“I cried like a baby this morning,” Scheffler said. “I was so stressed out. I didn’t know what to do. I was sitting there telling Meredith, ‘I don’t think I’m ready for this. I’m not ready. I don’t feel like I’m ready for this kind of stuff,’ and I just felt overwhelmed.”
His wife’s response: “Who are you to say that you are not ready?”
Scheffler said that reminded him to lean on his faith.
The final hole got a little crazy. His 45-foot downhill birdie putt trickled five feet past the hole. His comebacker burned the edge and left him a two-footer. He then missed again, cupping his hand over his mouth to stifle a this-cannot-be-happening gasp. Finally, he tapped in from a foot and bear-hugged his caddy in relief.
“Throughout the round today when I built up a little bit of a lead, I didn’t want any stress towards the end of the day, and I didn’t break my concentration until we got onto the green on 18,” he said . “Once we got on to the green, I was like, all right, I’m going to enjoy this, and had some fun with it.”
In truth, he could have six-putted and still won. He shot a final-round 71 and was the only player to finish under par all four days.
He chipped in for birdie on No. 3, then parred the next two holes. By then, any nervous energy he had was gone.
“After that, I kind of just started cruising,” he said. “I felt comfortable with pretty much most of the aspects of my game. My swing maybe felt a little bit off, but other than that, I feel like I wasn’t ever really going to make a bogey.”
McIlroy, who needs a green jacket to complete a career Grand Slam, engineered a different kind of drama on No. 18.
He was paired with Collin Morikawa, and they both blasted out of the sand for birdies to finish their rounds. It was an unspoken game of, “Anything you can do, I can do better.” The roar from that shotmaking display echoed across the course, and McIlroy called it “the happiest I’ve ever been on a golf course.”
When they made those shots, the two friends threw their hands into the air and shared a laughing embrace. They also had matching eagles on No. 13 and finished their day a combined 13 under par.
McIlroy’s 64 tied the lowest final round in Masters history and was one off the course record.
“It’s what you dream about, right?” said McIlroy, who finished second at seven unders. “You dream about getting yourself in position. I wasn’t quite close enough to the lead, I don’t think. Scottie is playing really, really well. To play as well as I did today and then to finish like this, I mean, it’s just absolutely incredible.”
Morikawa, a graduate of La Cañada High who shot a 67 and finished alone in fifth at four under, said the echoes and roars of Augusta were even louder than during a pre-COVID round he had with Woods.
“What you just saw on the last hole with me and Rory, that was the coolest thing in the world,” Morikawa said.
Cameron Smith and Shane Lowry tied for third at five under, each bogged down by a triple bogey. Smith was in the final group with Scheffler and started the day three strokes off the lead. He was looking to become the second Australian player to win the Masters after Adam Scott (2013) and at one point early in the round had cut Scheffler’s lead to a shot. But then the two went in opposite directions.
Woods wrapped up his remarkable Masters comeback Sunday with an unremarkable 78 — matching his round Saturday — to put the finishing touches on his first competitive play in 17 months.
Woods, 46, is 14 months removed from a catastrophic rollover car accident on the Palos Verdes Peninsula that threatened his ability to walk, let alone return to tournament golf. So the five-time Masters winner had a deep appreciation Sunday for the ovation he received from the gallery as he walked up No. 18.
“It was an unbelievable feeling,” he said. “Just to have the bosses and the support out there. I wasn’t exactly playing my best out there, but just to have the support out there and the appreciation from all the fans.
“I don’t think words can really describe that given where I was a little over a year ago and what my prospects were at that time to end up here and be able to play in all four rounds. Even a month ago, I didn’t know if I could pull this off.”
Scheffler knows the feeling. During the Butler Cabin ceremony, CBS announcer jim nantz asked him when he started dreaming of this Masters moment. Scheffler said he only started to envision it two days earlier.
Oh, he dared to dream, but…
“I never really make it this far.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.