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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

The world’s best golfer tamed the Masters and left the field far behind

Scottie Scheffler celebrates on the 18th green after winning the 2024 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 14, 2024 in Augusta, Georgia.   (Getty Images)
By Rick Maese Washington Post

AUGUSTA, Ga. – On the 18th green on the final day of this Masters, Scottie Scheffler, so steady and so determined, finally allowed himself a smile, lifting both hands into the air and bellowing toward the sky. It was bottled-up relief and excitement, for sure, but for the sports world, it served as an unmistakable pronouncement: Golf has a transcendent champion on its hands, the kind of talent who feels miles ahead of anyone else.

Scheffler, 27, is no longer on the doorstep to golf stardom. He has kicked down the door, taken off his shoes and plopped himself into the best seat in the house. He’s a no-frills, understated Texan, but everything he does with a golf club seems to demand exclamation points: the booming drives, the pinpoint iron play, the soft touch with the wedge and an improved putting game.

As only he can do, Scheffler zapped Sunday’s final round of any suspense but still provided plenty of theatrics, muzzling any would-be challengers and putting on a stunning show at Augusta National Golf Club.

“It’s hard to put into words how special this is,” he said. “It’s been a long week, a grind of a week. The golf course was so challenging, and to be sitting here wearing this jacket again and getting to take it home is extremely special.”

The final numbers: a 4-under-par 68 in the final round, putting him at 11 under for the tournament, four shots better than anyone else en route to a second Masters title. He held off Ludvig Aberg, a 24-year-old playing in his first major. The Swedish wunderkind shot a 3-under 69 on Sunday and finished four shots off the lead. Collin Morikawa, Max Homa and Tommy Fleetwood finished tied for third at 4 under.

Scheffler put on a 72-hole clinic that felt mesmerizing and inevitable at every turn. Just consider an hour-long stretch near the middle of Sunday’s round. As the final groups neared the turn, four players were tied for the lead at 7 under: Scheffler, Aberg, Morikawa and Homa. On the ninth fairway, Scheffler grabbed a lob wedge that doubled as a magic wand. From 89 yards, he lofted a shot about 20 feet past the pin, sheer wizardry and backspin drawing the ball toward the hole, missing the cup by an inch or so.

The tap-in birdie put all the momentum at Scheffler’s back as he birdied Nos. 8, 9 and 10. That four-way tie atop the leader board crumbled. Barely an hour had passed, and Scheffler was all alone, three shots ahead of the field and pointed to his second green jacket ceremony in three years.

But he wasn’t looking at the leader board as he plowed through the final holes. That has never been his style.

“He just seemed focused on doing Scottie Scheffler things,” caddie Ted Scott said.

Scott has been on the bag now for four Masters wins, including two with Bubba Watson. He linked up with Scheffler four years ago and has heard plenty of stories about a young Scottie wearing pants to the course as a 7-year-old golfer because he was already preparing for life on the PGA Tour.

“He just does all the little things well,” Scott said, “and he does them consistently. He doesn’t skip. He doesn’t miss a day.”

Scheffler is enjoying a run that the sport rarely sees. In addition to the two Masters, he won the past two Players Championships. He hasn’t played a round above par since August and has finished outside the top 1o only once since then.

The golf world once mistakenly thought he was mortal, obsessing over Scheffler’s putting. But here at Augusta, he needed just 109 putts over 72 holes, an average of 1.51 per hole – third best in the field. “People created a weakness in his putting. He’s not a weak putter,” Scott said.

Perhaps his biggest strength right now is tougher to quantify. To hear his competitors tell it, Scheffler’s iron play is unmatched, but he’s also leaps and bounds ahead of the field mentally.

“He’s obviously a tremendous talent, but I think that is his superpower,” Homa said.

It separated him from the field these past four days, when windy conditions and a difficult course toppled many of the game’s giants. Scheffler called it “a battle,” a markedly different test than his first Masters win. Still, he somehow made it look easy.

“I feel like I’m in control of my emotions as I’ve ever been,” Scheffler said, “which is a good place to be.”

The final nail came on No. 14, where Scheffler’s approach shot from 153 yards caught the ridge behind the hole and slowly trickled toward the hole, coming to a stop just two feet away. It would be one of seven birdies on Scheffler’s card Sunday.

“I had a lot of really talented players trying to chase me down, and I knew pars weren’t going to get it done,” he said.

Jon Rahm, the defending champ, slipped the jacket on Scheffler on Sunday evening, but everyone on the leader board played a supporting role in giving it to him. Scheffler was, of course, steady down the stretch – he played the back nine in 3 under; only two other players were better over 18 holes Sunday.

Meanwhile, Aberg found himself lost in water on No. 11, Homa was lost in the bushes on No. 12, and Morikawa was lost on the scoreboard for a chunk of the afternoon, posting two double bogeys in a three-hole stretch.

The only person who could have stopped Scheffler was some 900 miles away. Scheffler and his wife, Meredith, are expecting their first child. With a due date in a few weeks, Meredith stayed home this weekend, and Scheffler said he would withdraw from the tournament if she happened to go into labor during Sunday’s final round.

He had sorted out the logistics and had a plan in place if the phone rang. Would she actually call mid-round?

“She better call,” Scheffler said following his round Saturday.

History rang instead.

The world’s top-ranked player now finds himself in a class of one. Sure, the Masters’ storied ledger will show that Scheffler has plenty of company in the Champions Locker Room. Seventeen others, after all, have won at least two championships here.

But this chapter on Scheffler has much more to be written. Scheffler won this championship in just his fifth appearance at Augusta National – the fewest of any two-time winner. Only three were younger than him by time they won No. 2: Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods and Seve Ballesteros, golf royalty each of them.

Since winning that first title as a baby-faced 25-year-old, Scheffler has separated himself from the field, giving the sport the kind of singular force that it hasn’t had since Woods. The speculation hasn’t focused on whether Scheffler would win another major but on how many.

The only things separating him from the greats are longevity and more major titles. The talent, ability and mental strength – he has it all. The game’s best player again won the sport’s biggest event. The lone question remaining: What’s next?

“It’s hard to argue with the results of the last few weeks. I’ve been playing some nice golf,” he said. “But I really try to not focus too much on the past. I’m going to go home this week and reflect on this week and soak it in as best I can. It’s not a very satisfying sport, because I’m supposed to tee it up again on Thursday.”