Rarely can such a one-sided tournament have thrilled like the 86th Masters did at Augusta last week – Scottie beamed, Rory roared and we could marvel at another extraordinary Tiger feat.
There should be no doubting the quality of Scottie Scheffler’s victory. The tall American was the only man to break par on all four days, conquering demanding conditions throughout.
The 25-year-old, who has catapulted himself to the top of the world rankings with an astonishing run of four wins in six tournaments, held the field at arms length from the moment he went five shots clear on the second day.
But Rory McIlroy’s stirring finish reminded us of his box-office talent and the returning Tiger Woods defied many expectations by making the cut – something that proved beyond other former world number ones such as Brooks Koepka, Jordan Spieth and Justin Rose.
Woods ran out of steam with successive weekend rounds of 78, but his opening 71 and the buzz he brought to the first packed Augusta galleries since his 2019 triumph set the tone for a glorious golfing week.
Scheffler is a special talent. The quiet man of America’s successful Ryder Cup team last year, he was still waiting for his first PGA Tour success at Whistling Straits last September.
He possesses an imaginative game, likes to move the ball both ways, shaping shots to fit the challenge. He is great to watch and his chipping last week was remarkably good.
Teaming up with caddie Ted Scott last November seems to have been the catalyst to unlock the Texan’s full potential. The bagman, who was at Bubba Watson’s side for his two Masters wins, knew he was onto a good thing when Scheffler took him on.
“He was the number one junior in the world,” Scott commented. “Won the US junior, great college player, Korn Ferry Tour Player of the Year. He’s a winner.
“It’s not like he wasn’t a winner and suddenly I started caddying for him and all of a sudden it’s like he’s a winner. It was inevitable.”
Apart from four-putting the last with the tournament already won, Scheffler hardly put a foot wrong, other than to spill his takeaway food on the journey back to his house last Saturday night.
Meredith, his wife, laughed. Scheffler was irritated, but soon got over the messy setback. Then on Sunday morning he burst into tears, doubting whether he was ready for his major breakthrough.
But arriving at the course brought an inner calm that was the hallmark of his stunning performance in the first men’s major of the year.
“Playing with a lead is not easy, especially at a golf tournament like this,” said Scheffler.
“If you probably took a straw poll of the guys on Tour, what golf tournament they would want to win, it would be the Masters.
“Off the golf course, it’s stressful. On the golf course, it’s a heck of a lot of fun.”
Scheffler, a committed Christian, was born in New Jersey, but brought up in Dallas, Texas. His mother worked while his dad took care of domestic life.
The young Scottie was a golfing geek and looked up to local heroes such as Justin Leonard and Ryan Palmer.
“I grew up around so many guys out there, just watching them and learning from them,” Scheffler said.
“I wore pants (long trousers) when I was a kid at Royal Oaks because I wanted to play golf on the PGA Tour. I would wear pants and a collared shirt to like third-grade class and get made fun of – rightfully so.”
And like so many of his contemporaries, Woods was his ultimate hero. “Oh yeah,” Scheffler smiled. “I played Tiger’s irons, wore his shoes, wore his shirt this week.”
And the champion played in the manner of the five-time Masters winner to secure his first major at only the 10th attempt. A dominant, unflappable brand of golf that put him beyond McIlroy’s final-day heroics.
The 32-year-old from Northern Ireland went for broke with his 64 on Sunday, his most exciting golf since that vain attempt to make the cut at Royal Portrush in the Open of 2019.
When he eagled the 13th, there was an outside chance. He knew there were birdie opportunities at the next three holes, but at 14 and 15 he pulled drives that prevented him from going for the greens.
Nevertheless, sensationally holing out for birdie from the greenside bunker at 18 provided the grandstand moment of the tournament and an exuberant celebration to match.
McIlroy spectacularly reminded us why he can be such a captivating force.
“I don’t think it just sets me up for next year’s Masters, it sets me up for the rest of the year,” he said.
“It was a golf course that I felt was gettable and I feel like I’m playing well enough to go out there and shoot those sort of scores.”
He admitted to frustration, though, that he could not maintain the momentum with those errant drives on the 14th and 15th holes.
“You always look back and think about what could have been,” added McIlroy.
Joined on the leaderboard by a spirited Shane Lowry, who tied for third with Cameron Smith, it was a good week for the Irish.
But the latest world rankings feature only four Europeans in the top 20 – the balance of power is discernibly Stateside. And with Scheffler now at the vanguard.
“I never expected to be sitting where I am now,” he reflected while wearing his newly-fitted green jacket.
“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 just go from there.
“I never really thought I was that good at golf, so I just kept practising and kept working hard, and that’s just what I’m going to keep doing.”
This was his third Masters. Simply being at Augusta had been an ambition fulfilled.
“I dreamed of having a chance to play in this golf tournament. I teared up the first time I got my invitation in the mail,” added Scheffler.
But he is no big softie. Scheffler is a ruthless golfing machine.
“If you’re going to choose a golf tournament to win, this would be the tournament I would want to win,” he said.
“You don’t know how many chances you’re going to get….I had a five-shot lead on Friday and then a three-shot lead going into Sunday, I don’t know if you get better opportunities than that. You don’t want to waste them.”
Scheffler most certainly did not squander the opportunity. He has the added pleasure of knowing he triumphed in another truly memorable Masters.