Scheffler wins Masters as McIlroy charge is too late

-10 S Scheffler (US); -7 R McIlroy (NI); -5 S Lowry (Ire), C Smith (Aus); -4 C Morikawa (US); -3 W Zalatoris (US), C Conners (Can)
Selected others: -1 J Thomas (US); +1 D Johnson (US), D Willett (Eng), +2 M Fitzpatrick (Eng), L Westwood (Eng), H Matsuyama (Jpn), T Fleetwood (Eng); +3 R MacIntyre (Sco); +4 J Rahm (Spa); +13 T Woods (US); +17 T Hatton (Eng)

World number one Scottie Scheffler cemented his place as the dominant force in the men’s game by winning the Masters and clinching his first major.

Scheffler won with a one-under 71, missing two short putts for a double bogey on 18, to finish 10 under par and claim the Green Jacket at Augusta.

The 25-year-old American finished three shots clear of Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy, who shot an extraordinary 64.

Australia’s Cameron Smith, in the last pair with Scheffler, hit a 73.

World number six Smith was aiming for a rare double of Players Championship and Masters victories, but ended up finishing third on five under alongside Ireland’s Shane Lowry.

McIlroy, who started the day one over, raised hopes of a sensational comeback when he holed out of the greenside bunker amid incredible scenes on the 18th, moving within three shots of the lead.

However, Scheffler remained steady and extended his advantage, which meant his late wobble on the 18th green did not matter.

The US Ryder Cup star held a three-shot overnight lead and continued his recent dominance with another commanding performance in Sunday’s final round.

Afterwards Scheffler revealed he “cried like a baby” on Sunday morning because he doubted if he was ready to win one of the sport’s most iconic tournaments.

How Scheffler took the heat out of a promising duel

Because of the composure he shows on course, Scheffler’s candid admission about the “overwhelming” emotion he felt before Sunday’s round was a surprise.

It was also surprising because he has been the outstanding player on the PGA Tour this year and his ascension to major champion at Augusta this week looked to be a natural progression.

But the magnitude of the Masters, and the weight of history at Augusta, makes it a different proposition to the rest.

Scheffler had not won a tour event until this year, triumphing at the Phoenix Open in his 71st senior tournament, then adding two more victories sat the Arnold Palmer Invitational and the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play.

While he is the standout player in 2022, Smith is not far behind.

As well as the Players Championship, the Australian also won the Tournament of Champions which means the two men had won five of the year’s six strongest tournaments between them.

That set up the prospect of a tantalising duel on a gorgeous spring afternoon which offered the chance for birdies.

The highlight of Scheffler’s round was a stunning chip-in for birdie on the third, which turned momentum back in his favour after 28-year-old Smith had already reduced the gap to one shot.

On holing out the bump and run, Scheffler said: “I was very excited and a bit surprised, it was not a shot I expected to go in.

“I wouldn’t say it changed the complexion of the day but it helped me get on a roll.”

Smith, also bidding for a maiden major, still applied pressure before seeing his chances irreparably damaged with a triple bogey on the iconic par-three 12th.

Unruffled by McIlroy’s charge and Smith’s troubles, Scheffler converted more birdies at 14 and 15 to lead by five shots with three holes left.

A majestic display ended with the uncharacteristic wobble on the 18th as Scheffler, finally showing signs of emotion as tears filled the eyes of his wife Meredith, took four putts to confirm victory.

When the final shot dropped to an even louder cheer, a relieved smile broke out across Scheffler’s face as he celebrated his fourth victory in the past six tournaments.

“I tried to keep my head down and execute shots. I knew if I took care of my stuff and played solid stuff, I’d get the job done,” he added.

“I’m kind of glad I missed those putts at the end because it meant I didn’t get too emotional.”

Thrilling McIlroy charge proves too little too late

Following a steady if not spectacular opening three rounds, McIlroy said his target for Sunday’s finale was clinching a seventh top-10 finish at Augusta.

The Northern Irishman achieved his aim with an electrifying performance which saw him race up the leaderboard and create a buzz of excitement on the course.

McIlroy also threatened to break several Masters records as he attempted to achieve an audacious comeback.

Starting 10 shots behind Scheffler, he was aiming to match the biggest final-round comeback to win a major, set by Paul Lawrie at the 1999 Open Championship.

Birdies on the first and third got the confidence flowing, with three more on seven, eight and 10 giving McIlroy an extra spring in his step as he suddenly moved into joint third.

Then came the conversion of an eagle putt on the par-five 13th to put him seven under for the day and the course record of 63 in his sights.

McIlroy rescued pars on 14 and 15 after wayward drives left, with two more pars on 16 and 17 leaving the course record – set by Nick Price in 1986 and Greg Norman in 1996 – out of reach.

But there was one more highlight – which McIlroy said made him as happy as he had “ever been on a golf course”.

In the bunker on the right of the green, McIlroy splashed out and holed for birdie, sparking some of the most fervent celebrations ever seen by the four-time major champion.

That moved him within three shots of Scheffler, providing a slim hope of victory, but ultimately the final-day charge proved too late as another opportunity to win all four men’s majors passed McIlroy by.

Woods still smiling despite falling down leaderboard

Away from the fight for the Green Jacket, eyes remained trained on five-time champion Tiger Woods as he continued his astonishing comeback from a life-threatening car crash.

Woods, 46, was given another emotional reception after completing 72 holes at the Masters in his first competitive appearance since the accident in February last year.

There were also fears the 15-time major champion would need his right leg amputating following the single vehicle crash.

But Woods defied the odds to return to Augusta this week, despite being unsure three weeks ago if he was fit enough to walk the hilly terrain.

After announcing on Tuesday he would play, Woods shot a one-under par 71 on Thursday amid celebratory scenes.

A round of 74 on Friday ensured he would make the weekend cut, although he eventually finished 13 over par after two 78s.

“It was an unbelievable feeling to have the patrons and their support out there,” he said.

“I was not exactly playing my best out there and to have the support, I don’t think words can really describe that given where I was and what my prospects were at that time.

“To end up here and play all four rounds, even a month ago I didn’t know if I could pull this off.”

Woods, wearing his iconic red shirt during the final round, was watched by his children Sam and Charlie, partner Erica and 77-year-old mother Kultida.

“My mum shouldn’t be walking, she has no business going up and down those hills. She’s stubborn. Now you know where I get it from,” he joked.

Woods confirmed he would play at the 150th Open Championship at St Andrews in July, but was undecided over next month’s US PGA Championship.

‘A special run’ – reaction to Scheffler’s win

Scheffler was quickly congratulated by many of his fellow professionals on social media, including third-placed Lowry and the returning Woods.

Scheffler’s US Ryder Cup team-mate Bryson DeChambeau missed the cut but stayed at Augusta to watch, while England’s former world number one Luke Donald also praised the champion.

Scheffler’s caddie Ted Scott, credited for helping the player break his winless duck and who helped Bubba Watson to win two Masters, also received congratulations.

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