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Ashway: Scheffler cruises to Masters win
Denton Ashway
DENTON ASHWAY

Thank you, Scottie Scheffler.

You took what annually ranks among the most dramatic, exciting, riveting, and entertaining afternoons in all of sport, and drained all the life right out of it.

The old adage that The Masters doesn’t begin until the back nine on Sunday? Not this year.

It took only 57 holes to decide this year’s tournament. The rest was simply a march to the inevitable finish: an emphatic coronation of the world’s top-ranked golfer playing the best golf of anyone in the world.

Scheffler came into Augusta with three wins in his past five tournaments. Now its four of six. He tied the Masters record with a five-shot lead after 36 holes. He led by three after 54.

And strolling up the 72nd hold early Sunday evening, he once again led by five. That walk for Scheffler was a dream coming true.

“I think the only thing I imagined was probably the walk up 18,” he said at his post-Masters press conference. “I’ve seen some guys do that. The first one that comes to mind is watching Jordan [Spieth] make that walk up 18 with a huge lead.

“And, definitely, 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 to the green on 18. Once we got to the green, I was like, ‘All right, I’m going to enjoy this,’ and had some fun with it.”

That big lead afforded Scheffler the luxury of four-putting on 18 and still winning by three shots. How rare is that? The PGA Tour has kept hole-by-hole stats for 40 seasons. The only other player to four-putt his way to a win was David Toms at Quail Hollow in 2003.

Scheffler’s round began as anything but a casual Sunday stroll. Nerves got the best of him on his opening drives. He scrambled for up-and-down pars on the first two holes. His next drive sailed left into another area code. Bogey seemed inevitable as he played out from the darkness to the front of a large mound guarding the green.

Meanwhile, his playing partner, Cameron Smith, had birdied the first two holes, cutting Scheffler’s lead to a single shot. It appeared that the lead would soon be gone. Then Scheffler hit the chip shot of his life, a bump-and-run that bumped into the mound and ran straight into the hole for a miraculous birdie.

“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. Parring four and five was huge as well.”

Smith, shaken by this incredible turn of events, made bogey from the same vicinity, and followed with another. The lead was now four, and it was all over but the shouting.

“Two quick birdies, and quickly followed by a couple of bogeys,” Smith lamented as his press conference. “I hit some pretty good shots, I thought, especially on the fourth hole. That 5-iron I hit there was probably one of the best swings of the day. And to walk off with bogey was a bit frustrating.”

From that point on, Scheffler was in command. “After that, I kind of just started cruising. 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. That was my goal. I just tried to hit good shots. That’s all I was thinking about.”

After his final putt finally dropped, Scheffler had become only the second player to leave Augusta with four wins on the season, including the Masters. The other was Arnold Palmer in 1960.

Scheffler also became the fifth different player ranked number one in the world to win the Masters, but the second to do so in his first start as number one. The other was wee Ian Woosnam in 1991.

Last fall, Scheffler still vied for the dubious honor of being the Best Player Never To Have Won a Major. For Sunday singles at the Ryder Cup matches, he drew then-No. 1 Jon Rahm, the man he replaced as the world’s top-ranked player. Scheffler birdied the first three holes, and beat Rahm, 4-and-3.

In his rookie season of 2020, he held a share of the lead at the PGA championship on the back nine Sunday. He then shot 71-66-66-65 at East Lake in the Tour Championship.

So we saw glimpses of his potential. But did anyone glimpse this year’s performance? Did Scheffler?

“I never, you know, I never expected to be sitting where I am now. You know, you don’t expect things to come to you in this life. You just do the best that you can and with the hand you’re dealt and go from there.

“I never really thought I was that good at golf, so I just kept practicing and working hard and that’s just what I’m going to keep doing.”