AUGUSTA NATIONAL — It was the motif of the final day, Rory McIlroy holing out from the bunker at the last to equal the low score on Masters Sunday. It was a shot and a celebration worthy of winning the Green Jacket. That it didn’t was down to the extraordinary resilience of Scottie Scheffler, who resisted McIlroy’s late charge and the early thrusts of playing partner Cameron Smith to become a major winner at 25.
As happy as he has been on a golf course was how McIlroy described the moment that sealed his 64. Even playing partner Collin Morikawa joined in the party before, remarkably, holing out from the same trap for a birdie of his own. It was the kind of round we thought McIlroy had left behind, a bogey-free assault on the senses as well as the golf course. He will look back at the unforced errors of Friday when he shipped three strokes to par from the middle of the fairway at 10 and 11 and scream his imprecations.
There were other unforced errors too, but his battling 71 in difficult conditions on Saturday to launch him into the top ten and his genius with the sun on his back on the final afternoon demonstrated what a force McIlroy might yet be again. Let us pray that one day this marvellous tournament delivers the prize his talent is due.
“It’s what you dream about, right? You dream about getting yourself in position. To play as well as I did today and then to finish like this, I mean, it’s just absolutely incredible,” McIlroy emoted in the Butler Cabin. “This tournament never ceases to amaze. I gave it a great go, and I can’t ask any more of myself. I went out there and shot my best ever score at Augusta. I wasn’t quite close enough to the lead but I’ll come back next year and keep trying.”
Masters leaderboard 2022, day 4
- 1. Scottie Scheffler (-12)
- 2. Rory McIlroy (-7)
- T3. Shane Lowry, Cameron Smith (-5)
- 5. Collin Morikawa (-4)
- T6. Will Zalatoris, Corey Conners (-3)
- T8. Justin Thomas, Sungjae Im (-1)
- T10. Cameron Champ, Charl Schwartzel (level par)
Full results available via masters.com
Imagine being Scheffler, walking to the first tee with a three-shot lead. He said on Friday that it would be great to win but if he didn’t well, that’s okay too since he would have done all he could. Insouciance comes as standard when you are sitting on a five-shot lead, as he was after two rounds. The idea of losing takes on greater weight the closer you get to winning.
This was the burden Scheffler was condemned to carry on the final day. It showed with an opening tee shot pulled left into the trees, emulating his tired effort on the closing hole the night before. On this occasion he recovered with a deft chip from the back of the green to save par. He needed it. Smith made his birdie to cut the deficit to two.
The Australian would halve the gap with another strike against par at the second, and when Scheffler again found trouble off the tee at the third it looked for all the world his lead would disappear. What a game this is. Scheffler holed out from the swale beneath the green for birdie. Not only did Smith bogey, he repeated the dose at the fourth. The lead was now four, the dynamic utterly changed.
Meanwhile the McIlroy we always hoped might show up at Augusta again finally did, reaching the turn in four under par. It was a remarkable transformation after entering the weekend in 23rd. Only Tiger Woods rocks Augusta more than McIlroy on this form, witness the eruptions detonated by his chip-in birdies at seven and ten, not to mention the eagle at 13 to take him to six under par. He couldn’t, could he?
With Scheffler reaching 11 under par at the seventh and maintaining a steadfast approach he held McIlroy comfortably at arms’ length. It was a performance of incredible maturity and one in keeping with his station as world No 1. The three PGA tournaments he won to reach the summit, the first coming only in February, traced an arresting arc. But nothing as stellar as this.
He went to the 18th with a five-shot cushion. The four-putt finish was unfortunate but irrelevant. He still signed for a 71, his fourth sub-par round of the week to win by three on ten under par. Few have managed a final round better.
Scottie Scheffler, world No 1, Masters champion, anonymous no more.