By TIM DAHLBERG – AP sportswriter
AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) — The weekend couldn’t come soon enough for the Masters players, who really only had two choices, as the sun set on Augusta National and the reality of their situation became clear.
You could watch Scottie Scheffler make a birdie putt and wonder why more of them don’t get in too.
Or they could study the weather and hope the wind howls through the tall Georgia pines.
Tiger Woods did not have to announce which group he is in.
“It’s going to be windy. It’s going to be cool,” Woods said. “It will be the Masters, which I think the Masters Committee has been looking forward to for a number of years. We haven’t had anything like that before.”
We haven’t had a leader like Scheffler for a long time. He has a five-shot lead that looked amazingly easy to manage and, perhaps more importantly, he has history on his side.
Only five times before in Masters history has a player gone five shots ahead of the weekend. The player has won the last four times, most recently in 2015 when Jordan Spieth picked up a green jacket.
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And all Scheffler has to do is play the same kind of competitive, crushing golf he’s been playing all year.
“As long as I’m committed to everything, everything should be fine,” the Texan said. “The rest is really not up to me.”
That kind of calm attitude has made this a breakthrough year for Scheffler, who suddenly finds himself the No. 1 player in the world. After his first win in February in Phoenix, he added two more championships to his tally, including at Match Play in San Antonio two weeks ago.
For those scoring at home, that’s three wins in five tournaments.
That was nice and that was important. They paid good money and have probably already made Scheffler player of the year.
But this is the master. The winner gets a green jacket and everything that goes with it.
The weekend pressure can be suffocating. What seemed feasible on Friday may no longer be possible on Sunday.
Oh, and then there’s Woods, who is nine shots behind but still has hopes of a fight. And really, who will count him after all he has already overcome?
“I have a chance to go into the weekend,” Woods said. “Hopefully I’ll have one of those aha moments and turn it on over the weekend and get through it. You’ve seen guys do it with a chance of going into the back nine. If you get into the back nine within five or six, anything can happen. I have to take myself there. That’s the key. I have to get myself there.”
That may be little more than wishful thinking for Woods, no matter how many Green Jackets he’s won (5) or how familiar he is with every blade of grass on the golf course he loves most.
But a guy has to have something. And he’s not the only hope.
“He’s clearly in control at the moment based on the last few months, so I’m not too surprised,” said Justin Thomas, who was level with Scheffler’s 67 but still seven strokes behind. “But yeah, I’d appreciate it if he stopped going too far.”
If there’s anything Scheffler can shake – and with three wins in his last five starts, it’s hard to imagine what that could be – there are three former champions within six shots of him.
These include last year’s winner, Hideki Matsuyama, and 2011’s winner, Charl Schwarzel. Just a shot behind threatens former world No. 1 and 2020 winner Dustin Johnson.
That’s a lot of golf firepower and Augusta National is a lot of golf course. Strange things can happen on a windy weekend, especially when the greens dry out more and the shots get correspondingly harder.
Scheffler is only on his third master’s degree, so he’s not one to judge history. As of February, he hadn’t even won a tournament on the PGA Tour.
A few early birdies from Woods, a few big roars echoing through the landscape can damage a player’s psyche.
Also, they say, the Masters never starts before Sunday’s back nine.
“If you’re on that back nine within five or six by Sunday, you have a chance,” Woods said. “So I just have to get there.”
A tall order, sure, but what does Woods have to lose?
Remember, he shouldn’t be here anyway.
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