But that was an hour before and this was now. Augusta National had just reminded the son, Scottie Scheffler, who had looked more machine than man through 54 holes at the Masters, that no one goes the full 72 without their pride bruised and psyche tested. Scheffler’s three-shot lead was down to one after two holes and promised to disappear at the third, a duck-hook drive and chunked pitch leaving him in a bad position at an inauspicious time. Only then Scheffler decided he had his fill of humility and haymakers and resolved to strike back. He sent his ball skidding into the hillside, the ball pulling out a map mid-air to check directions, landing on the green to run and run and run some more and stopping only when it fell to the bottom of the cup. When the ball went down the patrons arms went up, the son shook his fist and the father let out a sigh. Scottie was back on the path in his march to history, a destination he ultimately reached by becoming the 2022 Masters champ.
“It feels pretty good. I don’t know what to say, to be honest with you guys,” Scheffler said after authoring a final-round 71 for a 278 total and three-shot win. “I’m just really thankful to be in this position.”
What Scheffler lacks in self analysis he compensates for in his game. On a tour not short on talent the Texan is among its most skillful, possessing the might and precision and touch that allows for few if any holes in his arsenal. He casts an imposing shadow, his 6-foot-3 height, wide frame and no-nonsense glare making him look like the guy who comes knocking on your door when the rent is three months late.
However, his physicality and frame belies an undercurrent of cool. It is there, forever and always, and saved him yesterday when anything less would have released his grip on this Masters. Scheffler was leading by four when he tugged his 18th tee shot into underbrush, promising to shrink that lead to two and possibly one. Instead Scheffler keenly used the rules to his advantage (albeit with penalty) and walked away with one of those oxymorons usually reserved for the US Open: a good bogey.
“Even when he makes mistakes, he’s stone-cold,” one reporter whispered to another Saturday night as Scheffler made his way off the course. “I don’t think he’s human.”
Still, that bogey kept the final round a competition rather than coronation, and any thoughts otherwise were erased immediately on this Sunday afternoon. Scheffler’s drive at the first started left and stayed left. His punch shot sprinted through the green. He made a nifty pitch and saved par but Cameron Smith – the Players champ and ostensibly Scheffler’s only opponent at three shots behind – rolled in a 10-footer for birdie. Scheffler’s advantage was down to two, then down to one after he made 5 to Smith’s 4 on the second. Then Scheffler’s drive at the third was so bad it was good, receiving relief from the towering leaderboard that blocked his line to the green. He chunked the approach and in that second it sure felt like the wheels were coming off.
Only Smith also left his approach short, his ball coming to rest next to Scheffler’s. Scheffler went first and delivered one of those shots that sent roars reverberating off the pines.
“I would say what is most pivotal was getting that ball up-and-down. To have it go in was obviously off the charts, but my main goal was just to get up-and-down, and see it go in was definitely special,” Scheffler said. “After that I kind of just started cruising.”
Give Smith this: the man battled. He matched Scheffler shot-by-shot, keeping the red carpet from being rolled out on the forever green property. And a birdie 3 at the 11th to Scheffler’s 4 elicited one of the day’s biggest roars. It’s not that the gallery was anti-Scheffler; they were just pro-drama, and Scheffler’s lead was preventing the histrionics that make this place so special. But Smith hit first at the par-3 12th, and though his ball was lost in the shade cast by the towering loblollies Smith’s one-arm, head-down finish let the patrons know where the ball was headed.
“Take that kielbasa off the grill,” a patron said, shaking his head. “He is cooked.” Well, technically wet, but you get the gist. Smith walked away with a triple-bogey and walked out of the proceedings, ultimately finishing in a tie for third.
Scheffler had another bad miss, this time long and left, but his short game came to the rescue by getting his chip on the putting surface and converting a 10-footer for par. The victory march was almost on.
We say almost because a person remained in the machine’s path, and that person was Rory McIlroy. The Ulsterman began his day 10 shots behind Scheffler but went out in 32 and chipped in for birdie at the 10th. Now, for all of McIlroy’s prowess and accomplishments, there is the perception that the four-time Major winner has a penchant for playing his best when his best doesn’t matter, so much so that his back-door finishes have become a running joke on social media. But after that birdie at the 10th there were no laughs, just shouts and cheers and encouragement from the gallery, doing what they could do to help McIlroy do the unthinkable.
McIlroy eagled the 13th to move to six-under, four back of Scheffler, and for the briefest moment the patrons – a very, very pro-Rory contingent – seemed to be collectively wishing the dream into existence. But… well, one of the best parts about being at Augusta National is the shots you don’t see, the club’s no-mobile-phone policy heightening your senses. You watch with your ears and the scoreboards confirm what went down. It was quiet at Amen Corner as the patrons turned their heads from the most famous landscape in golf, waiting for some type of sonic boom to emit from the 15th where Rory was at. It never came. The scoreboard operator removed the white blank board next to McIlroy’s “6” at the 14th hole and in its place went another “6”. McIlroy had made a par 5 when he needed an eagle 3. The grandstands groaned. There may be a day when McIlroy’s Masters dream comes true, but it won’t be this day.
“I thought if I could shoot 63 today, it would give me a chance,” said McIlroy, who holed an amazing bunker shot on the 18th for a 64, finishing second by three shots. “That was sort of my number today. I didn’t quite get there, but I gave it a good shot. Again, all I wanted to do was just – I’ve been in that position, and I’ve had the lead on the back nine here and haven’t been able to get it done. I just wanted to try and put a little bit of pressure on and I feel like I did that.”
Instead this day belonged to Scheffler, who birdied the 14th and 15th to earn a stress-free walk up the big hill on 18. For the sake of posterity it did not end in flair, Scheffler four-putting the final green for a double.
“I tried not to look up. I tried to keep my head down and just keep doing what I was doing because I didn’t want to break my concentration,” Scheffler said on playing with a lead. “The minute I did was on 18 green when I finally got on there and I had a five-shot lead and was like, All right, now I can enjoy this. And you saw the results of that.”
Scheffler said it with a laugh, but no need for self-deprecation. This was a week that had high winds and cold temperatures and firm greens, that saw a par 5 play over par one day and a number of players never breaking into red. Save flair for fashion. Besides, he’s leaving with a jacket that never goes out of style.
Now, when a young player with such highly touted prospects like Scheffler wins this tournament, and wins in this manner, it’s easy to wonder what it says about who he is and where he’s going and what it means. With four wins in his past six starts Scheffler is no longer on the precipice of stardom; he is perched on its cliffs, listening to his name echo off the canyon walls. That is all well and good, and on this Sunday night in Augusta it certainly feels true.
Conversely, stardom can be fleeting. Perhaps this is not the start of a new era but merely a hot run like so many hot golfers have enjoyed, and lost, before him. As this sport’s past continually reminds us, the present is no guarantee of the future.
For what it’s worth, Sheffler has no appetite for conjecture and rumination. He’s a man who lives in the moment. “I’ve never been a guy that likes to look too far into the future,” Scheffler said. “So for me just staying present has always been what works best for me.” So what matters right now is this moment, the one he spent a lifetime trying to earn. Afterward, Scheffler admitted the gravity of what could be was too much to handle Sunday morning, stressing him out to the point where he “cried like a baby”.
“I didn’t know what to do. I was sitting there telling [wife] Meredith, ‘I don’t think I’m ready for this,’” Scheffler said. “I’m not ready, I don’t feel like I’m ready for this kind of stuff, and I just felt overwhelmed.
“She told me, ‘Who are you to say that you are not ready? Who am I to say that I know what’s best for my life?’ And so what we talked about is that God is in control and that the Lord is leading me; and if today is my time, it’s my time. And if I shot 82 today, you know, somehow I was going to use it for His glory. Gosh, it was a long morning. It was long.”
Scheffler eventually calmed down. He didn’t shoot 82. He did what he didn’t think could be done. But the exchange proved Scottie Scheffler is not a machine. He was too vulnerable and scared for that. Instead he’s a man, with the heart to prove it.