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Tuesday, November 29, 2022

The Masters: Scottie Scheffler continues astonishing run with three-shot victory over Rory McIlroy

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cottie Scheffler crowned a stunning rise to the top of the sport with a three-shot victory at the Masters to win his first major and extend an astonishing run of form.

Two months ago, the 25-year-old had never won a PGA Tour event. Six starts later, he now sits as the world number one with four victories and a Green Jacket to his name.

A final round 71 did the job for Scheffler, who had a five-shot lead after 36 holes and then a three-shot advantage going into the final round. He finished on 10-under-par, a double bogey at the last doing little to dampen his celebrations.

Rory McIlroy started the day ten shots back but he carded a sensational bogey-free 64, one shot off the course record, to finish second. He holed his bunker shot to make birdie at 18 and spark wild scenes around the green, getting to the clubhouse at seven-under.

Cameron Smith was Scheffler’s nearest threat going into Sunday and was right there in the early stages, but the Australian’s challenge unravelled on the 12th hole and he finished five shots back.

Alongside him in third was Shane Lowry, who saw his hopes of a final-day charge ended by a triple-bogey at the fourth but he rallied impressive to finish on five-under.

Collin Morikawa finished solo fifth after carding a 67, while Will Zalatoris now has a tied-sixth to go with the second he had on debut last year. Justin Thomas finished inside the top ten on one-under, with defending champion Hideki Matsuyama three shots further back in T14th.

Woods carded a round of 78 for the second day in a row to cap his return to top-level golf in 47th, confirming in an interview afterwards that he will be playing at the Open at St Andrews this summer.

Scheffler’s overnight lead of three shots was reduced to just one as Smith started superbly, making birdie on his first two holes to pile the pressure on the world number one.

Both players badly pulled their drives on the third and left their second shots short of the green, briefly looking like they may give the chasing pack some hope. Scheffler incredibly chipped in before Smith couldn’t get up-and-down from an identical position, and the overnight lead was suddenly restored.

Scheffler certainly did not have his best golf early in the round but his short-game continued to get him out of trouble. A blemish-free front nine of 34 gave him a four-shot lead at the turn.

Four shots over Smith and five over McIlroy, who at this point was absolutely motoring. A chip-in at 10 got the Northern Irishman to four-under and the charge was well and truly on when he made a ten-foot putt for eagle at 13.

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Both Smith and Scheffler dropped shots at the par-four 10th, while McIlroy’s move slightly stalled when he could only make par at 15.

It was Smith who started Amen Corner in style, with birdie at the notoriously difficult 11th, and Scheffler had to then step up and hole a seven-foot par putt to keep his lead at three shots.

And then to the par-three 12th, where so many players have come unstuck. So too the Australian. Smith went straight at the pin and paid the price dearly as he found the water. Scheffler was not about to make the same mistake and sent his approach long and 25 yards left, from where he made par. Smith walked off with a triple bogey.

That gave Scheffler a comfortable cushion, though he would have heard the roars from 18 when McIlroy made an unlikely birdie to cut the lead to three. Seconds later, the American missed a short birdie putt on 13.

Scheffler has been the epitome of composure over the last two months and that was on display again, as he knocked his approach stiff at 14 to extend his advantage. He followed it up with another birdie at 15 before a par at 16 ticked off the last threat of water on the course, and he stood on the 18th tee with the comfort of a five-shot lead.

His drive rattled off the trees and landed in the right rough and he then sent his approach straight over the pin to leave himself a 40-foot putt. The American could have taken six from there and still won – it started to look like he’d need them. A five footer and then a two-foot putt were missed, but after quickly composing himself he sealed golf’s biggest prize.

The pressure of being world number one has not slowed Scheffler down, nor the weight of expectation sleeping on a big lead while in search of his first major win. He is at the pinnacle of the game in every sense at the moment, but doesn’t look like a player ready to settle for what he has.

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