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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Scottie Scheffler wins his 1st Masters championship

Scottie Scheffler during the final round of the Masters Tournament in Augusta, Ga., on Sunday, April 10, 2022. Scheffler, 25, won the Masters Tournament on Sunday by three strokes, claiming his first major championship with a steady, poised final round that took advantage of the three-stroke lead he held after three rounds of the tournament.

By Bill Pennington

It would have been understandable if Scottie Scheffler, who has been the paragon of poise as he charged to the No. 1 ranking in men’s golf this year, felt just a bit unnerved during the first hour of Sunday’s final round of the Masters Tournament in Augusta, Georgia. The three-stroke lead he held over his closest pursuer, Cameron Smith, when the day began had shrunk to a single stroke in the opening two holes.

Worse for Scheffler, on the par-4 third hole, he yanked his tee shot into the trees and then failed to get a pitch onto the elevated green, with his ball trundling backward into a dicey spot below the putting surface.

Would it take only three holes for Smith to catch Scheffler? Was the typically tranquil Scheffler, with his everyman nonchalance, about to wilt under the pressure?

Anyone who has been paying attention to this year’s PGA Tour, a circuit Scheffler has dominated since February, might have been able to predict what happened next. Scheffler took a bold, aggressive line and confidently knocked a chip into the hole for birdie. Smith would make bogey.

Over the next several hours, Scheffler, 25, rebuffed every challenge with the same aplomb to claim his first major championship, running away to win the 2022 Masters by three strokes. His margin of victory would have been larger but for a final show of some nerves during the tournament’s closing sequence on the 18th green, when Scheffler needed four putts, including three from less than 5 feet, to close out a round of 71. Scheffler finished 10 under par for the tournament, in just his third Masters appearance.

Rory McIlroy, who trailed Scheffler by 10 strokes heading into the final round, finished second after an 8-under-par 64. Smith and Shane Lowry tied for third, five strokes off the lead.

Speaking with reporters after donning the ceremonial green jacket awarded to Masters winners, Scheffler talked of feeling calm on the course during the final round but said he was “so stressed out” 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 could not 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 at peace on the golf course,” he said, laughing. “It’s off the course that’s hard for me. But I did a good job of keeping my concentration when playing. I calmed right down when I got to the golf course.”

For Scheffler, a New Jersey native who was raised in Texas, it was the fourth tour victory in his last six events, a stunning 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, late last month, he won a World Golf Championships Match Play event. From the first win, it took Scheffler only 42 days to ascend to the No. 1 ranking.

Despite his recent successes, Scheffler has remained something of an unknown to casual sports fans because he had not won a tour event before this year. But there were signs last season that Scheffler was beginning to find his rhythm at the upper level of men’s competitive golf. In the last three majors of that season, he finished tied for eighth at the British Open, tied for seventh at the U.S. Open and tied for eighth at the PGA Championship.

Scheffler, like Smith, is one of a new generation of younger golfers who are becoming frequent tour winners. The top seven golfers in the men’s world golf rankings are 30 or younger.

McIlroy, who has won every major golf championship except the Masters, was not expected to be part of the late-round heroics Sunday. He had broken par in only one of his first three rounds. But with birdies on two of his first three holes, McIlroy suddenly looked more comfortable than he had in any recent final round at the Masters. He shot a 4-under 32 in his first nine holes, then roared onto the back nine with birdies on the 10th hole and an eagle on the par-5 13th, which moved him to 6 under par — just four strokes behind Scheffler, who was playing several groups behind McIlroy.

McIlroy continued his hot streak with three consecutive pars but failed to capitalize on the par-5 15th hole, which is often reachable in two shots. Instead, McIlroy settled for par, a score he also made on the 16th and 17th holes.

But McIlroy had a last, unforeseen flourish. He sent his approach shot to the 18th green into a bunker to the right of it, but then lofted a splash from the sand onto the putting surface and watched the ball traverse a swale along the green and finally sink into the cup for a birdie.

McIlroy, who has not had much to celebrate in the closing moments of a Masters, flung his wedge into the sand and thrust both arms over his head.

A few minutes after McIlroy holed his bunker shot, his playing companion, Collin Morikawa, blasted from the same hazard and sank his shot. The two left the green area arm in arm.

While McIlroy was surging, Smith also made another run at Scheffler with a birdie at the 11th hole that kept Scheffler’s lead to three strokes. Next up was the pivotal and devilish par-3 12th hole, where the tournament is often decided and where tournament leaders for decades have seen their title dreams drown in the hole’s small but dangerous water hazard.

Smith had the honors on the tee, which he ascended before Scheffler. He appeared eager to apply pressure. But Smith’s 9-iron faded off the clubface immediately and was caught in the fickle winds that swirl around Amen Corner. Smith dipped his head in disappointment just as his golf ball plunked in Rae’s Creek in front of the green — to the right of the flag, which is the most common spot for a failed 12th-hole tee shot on a tense Masters Sunday.

Scheffler missed the green, but he kept his tee shot dry and then chipped to within 10 feet before sinking a nervy par putt. Smith made a triple bogey and slid well down the leaderboard.

“Probably the worst swing of the week for me,” Smith said of his tee shot at 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 that was set up by a spectacular approach shot. Then, at the par-5 15th hole, Scheffler rifled his second shot around a grove of pine trees to clear the pond fronting the green and set up a final birdie.

As for his misadventure while putting on the final hole, Scheffler took it in stride.

“As I said, I didn’t break my concentration all day; the only time I did was on the 18th green,” he said, smiling. “I was thinking that now I can enjoy this. And you saw what happened.”

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