Scottie Scheffler, Golf's Hottest Player, Dominates at the Masters to Win First Major – Sports Illustrated

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AUGUSTA, Ga. — Your new Masters Tournament champion isn’t just the hottest player in the world or just the best player in the world.
Think bigger, much bigger.
Scottie Scheffler was so dominant through four days of tough conditions at Augusta National Golf Club last week that he had the luxury of four-putting the 72nd green to win by… three strokes. The world just watched this easy-going, smiling Texan (who was actually born in New Jersey) go from zero to legend in eight weeks with four impressive victories. It’s a rush to judgment but a considered rush — Scheffler may be golf’s king of the hill for the rest of this decade.
This Masters had the feel of, “Hello, world.”
Tiger Woods greeted the world with that line when he played his first tournament as a pro in Milwaukee. You know what happened next, 82 times. All right, it’s not fair to compare anyone to Tiger Woods but it can’t be helped. Scheffler, 25, won the Masters on his third try. So did Woods. This Masters win was his fourth PGA Tour victory. Ditto, Woods.
Ultimately, Woods proved to be among the best players on tour in nearly every statistical category, save driving accuracy. Scheffler isn’t quite that precise but he has the length, the iron game and his chipping and putting are as good as anyone else in golf, if not quite Tiger-esque.
Australia’s Cameron (The Mullet) Smith had been proclaimed the game’s best putter since he one-putted 13 times in the final round during his Players Championship victory last month. They were paired together in the final twosome Sunday and it was Scheffler who was better on and around the greens.
Smith put up a good fight until the 12th hole, where he lost a shot into Rae’s Creek and made a triple bogey. Rory McIlroy finished runner-up with a sizzling back-door 64 while Smith and Ireland’s Shane Lowry shared third, two strokes behind McIlroy.
Any tournament winner looks impressive the week he wins but Scheffler has been doing this for two months. After he did it in college at the University of Texas. After he dominated Texas junior golf. Does that sound like anyone else you know who likes to wear red shirts on Sunday and won five Masters?
“It’s historic,” said Will Zalatoris, last year’s Masters runner-up and a golfing buddy of Scheffler’s since he was 9 years old. “He is playing the best golf in the world. This is very reminiscent of Jordan Spieth in 2015. Any time he tees it up, he has a chance to win. There are no weaknesses in his game. You may think he is out of a hole and next thing you know — I just saw him make a 10-footer to save par on 12 and keep his momentum going. That’s the epitome of Scottie.”
No one stroke of genius won this Masters for Scheffler. Dozens of them did. None were more dramatic, perhaps, then on the short par-4 third hole Sunday. Smith started out birdie-birdie to cut Scheffler’s three-shot lead to one. It seemed like "game on." What happened next was something historians will call "The Pillow Fight in the Sun."
Smith hit driver left of the green near the pillar holding up the leaderboard. Scheffler hit it longer and farther left, possibly caroming off a concession stand neatly hidden in the trees, or possibly bouncing off a couple of fans. Several patrons holding beers provided that information, so don’t inscribe it in cement.
Scheffler was under a tree and may or may not have had a swing, but the scoreboard was his line of sight so he got relief and took a drop about 25 feet away. It seemed like a lucky break. Then he hit his pitch shot heavy and watched it land well short of the green and run back down the bank. Advantage, Smith. Oops. Smith committed an instant replay and his ball rolled down the bank until it stopped next to Scheffler’s.
The fabled Masters pressure was getting to these guys, perhaps. Then Scheffler punched a low, hard chip bounced near the top of the bank. Gallery members gasped and “Noooo!” was heard from more than one of them. From below the green where they were standing, however, they couldn’t see that the ball carried onto the green, checked up slightly and ran pleasantly into the flagstick and dropped for the most timely and unlikely birdie. When the fans on the other side of the green erupted in cheers, they figured out Scheffler had holed it. Scheffler, meanwhile, casually gave a small fist pump and acted as if he’d expected it to go in. That was a pro move after a potential turning point.
Smith tried to hit a high pitch, couldn’t stop it near the green, and made bogey. Scheffler’s lead was restored to three and the spectators were buzzing about the stunning turnaround they’d just seen.
“That’s insane,” a fellow with an English accent wearing a Masters logo shirt said to no one in particular. He then added, “That’s composure, isn’t it?”
A short, weight-challenged fan wearing an Auburn cap told his buddies as they left the scene, “That was cool as s—!”
A college-aged female fan told her male friend, “He hit like three people over there and then he made a hole-in-one and …” Her friend interrupted to point out it was Scheffler’s third shot. “Well, whatever!” she replied. “How the hell do you even do that?”
Scheffler did it. He was magic with his wedge all week.
“What was most pivotal was getting that ball up and down,” Schefffler said of his third-hole miracle. “To have it go in was obviously off the charts. Parring 4 and 5 was huge, as well. After that, I just started cruising. 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.”
It’s never that easy on a Sunday at the Masters. Smith battled back to cut the lead to three by pouring in a lengthy birdie putt at the 11th hole, only the second birdie there Sunday. He had some momentum and was heading into the decisive part of the back nine.
He got up first at the par-3 12th, flared his iron shot and knew it was bad as soon as it left the clubface. It splashed in Rae’s Creek well short of the bank. Smith dropped, then flew his wedge shot over the green and the disaster resulted in a triple bogey.
That was realistically the end of the drama of this Masters, despite a heroic rally by McIlroy, unless Scheffler did something stupid and hit it into the water somewhere. He didn’t. He laid up at 13 and made par, stuck it close off the backstop at 14 for birdie and went for the green at the par-5 15th in two with a 5-iron, sending it just over the back of the green. That turned into another birdie. He was suddenly five strokes up with three to play.
“I just tried to keep hitting good shots,” Scheffler said. “That’s all I was thinking about.”
After missing a pair of short-ish second and third putts on the final green, Scheffler finally batted in the winning putt for double bogey. Then he hugged his caddie, Teddy Scott, who’d been on the bag for both of Bubba Watson’s Masters wins, and began to feel the enormity of the moment.
Spain’s Jon Rahm, the man Scheffler dethroned at No. 1 in the world rankings with his Match Play championship, cited Scheffler and Smith as the latest examples of the Tiger Woods effect.
“All of us are close in age and we all grew up watching Tiger,” Rahm said. “We all grew up with the dream of being major champions. It’s really hard to stay up there for a long time. The next guy comes up, gets hot ad there you go. It’s a beautiful part of the golden age of golf we’re living in right now. You might not get the one guy who’s going to dominate for a long time but you’re going to get five, six, maybe ten players who can do their part. Anybody gets hot for three, four months and you can see what happens.”
Rahm may be right but at the moment, Scheffler looks good in a green jacket and looks unbeatable.
He is a champion with just the right amount of skill, guts and class. When he arrived at the first tee Sunday, he took off his cap to shake hands with the three green-jacketed starters. That’s old-school manners.
At the award ceremony near the 18th green afterward, a choked-up Scheffler thanked all the people who needed to be thanked, from the club members to the grounds crew to the fans to his wife, his sisters, his parents, his wife’s parents, his caddies … well, everyone.
“I don’t know what else to say,” Scheffler said, his cheeks red with emotion. “It was an honor just to be in the field.”
He was born in a New Jersey hospital, his family moved to Dallas when he was 6 years old. His father told the story of how when the family car was packed and they were ready to leave, Scottie darted back into the house, gave his bedroom wall a goodbye kiss and tore a piece of wallpaper to take with him.
In Dallas, he never wanted to do anything except become a professional golfer. “He wore long pants to every junior tournament, even if it was 110 degrees,” Zalatoris said. “He tried to be a professional at a young age and it’s pretty cool to see what he’s doing now. He had a great short game even then.”
Scheffler said Sunday that his lob wedge was the key to his victory. “I chipped it so good this week,” he said. “I had a lot of nice up-and-downs. If I was to pick one part of my game that excelled the most, I would say it was probably that.”
The big question about Scheffler is whether he’s on a run or whether this is a new standard he has reached and will stay at. “You get on these hot streaks and you’ve got to ride them out because they don’t last forever,” said Justin Thomas, who tied for eighth. “But it’s not like he is winning small events or the Bahamas where it’s 20 players. He is winning World Golf Championships. He is winning a major. It’s really, really impressive to see someone so young handle a moment so big so easily.”
After Scheffler won the Match Play title and reached No. 1 a few weeks ago, he got emotional when asked about the accomplishment and said, “I never dreamed this big.”
The Masters is an even bigger dream and now, Scheffler will be coming back to Augusta National for the rest of his life. “That’s the coolest part about this whole deal,” Scheffler said. “I can’t believe it.”
This dream is real. He’s got the green jacket to prove it.
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Van Sickle has covered golf since 1980, following the tours to 125 men’s major championships, 14 Ryder Cups and one sweet roundtrip flight on the late Concorde. He is likely the only active golf writer who covered Tiger Woods during his first pro victory, in Las Vegas in 1997, and his 81st, in Augusta.