By DOUG FERGUSON – AP Golf Author
AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) — Scottie Scheffler completed an amazing two months with his greatest performance of all, winning the Masters on Sunday to confirm his new status as top golfer.
The only stumble came at the end when Scheffler needed four putts from 40 feet before claiming his first major, and that only counted in the record book.
He finished with a 1-in-71 for a three-shot win over Rory McIlroy, who holed out of the bunker on the last hole for a record-breaking final round of 64 that gave him the briefest moment of hope on Sunday in Augusta National could reach Scheffler.
No chance. Not on Sunday. Not the last four days. Not the last two months.
And when you consider that just 56 days ago, Scheffler was still searching for his first PGA Tour win. The 25-year-old from Dallas, who became a star as a 10-year-old and wore slacks to look like a pro, now has four wins in his last six tournaments.
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No prize was greater than this green jacket.
The Sunday theatre, exciting and tragic, belonged to everyone else. Scheffler overcame a nervous moment early in the round by jumping in for a birdie. He delivered crucial putts to keep Cameron Smith at bay and never looked out of composure, even when he ended up hitting short putts.
McIlroy was second. It was Smith who felt like letting one get away with it. The Aussie was still in the game, three shots from the lead when he fired his shot at Rae’s Creek on the par 3 12th for a triple bogey and dashed his hopes.
Smith closed on a 73 and tied for third place with Shane Lowry screwing 18th for a 69.
Scheffler joined Ian Woosnam in 1991 as the only player to win a major — the Masters in both cases — on his debut at world No. 1.
Everyone should have seen this coming. He won the Phoenix Open in a playoff on Super Bowl Sunday. He followed that up with a comeback win at Bay Hill to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational. He rose to world No. 1 by winning the match play in Texas two weeks ago.
Scheffler, who finished with 10 under 278, won $2.7 million from the $15 million prize fund. That brings his total to $8,872,200 over his last six starts.
Scheffler’s big moment came early in the round, and it was no less significant.
He started the final round with a three-shot lead and watched Smith open with two straight birdies to reduce the deficit to one, and then Scheffler’s approach from the pine needles to the left of the third fairway came up short and rolled down the slope.
His pitch was racing toward the hole when it slammed the pin and fell for an unlikely birdie and two-shot swing when Smith bogeyed from the same position.
The rest of the way, no one came closer than three. Only the competitors changed.
The 12th hole remains the most compelling par 3 in golf, the scene of more collapses than comebacks. Smith became the latest victim.
When he finished the birdie on No. 11, his shot was still in the air as he slipped his racquet through his hands and slowly closed his eyes twice as he splashed into Rae’s Creek. The next shot wasn’t much better, but at least it was dry, and Smith’s hopes ended there with a triple bogey.
At the 12th tee he was three down. Three holes later he was eight behind.
From then on, all hope lay with McIlroy. All it took for him to complete the career grand slam was achieve the best finals in Masters history and have Scheffler help him. He only got one of those and had to settle for his first silver medal from Augusta.
Not that he didn’t create some Sunday magic. McIlroy walked from bunker to bunker on the 18th hole, staying to the right of the green and aiming about 25 feet to the right of the pin. It drove up the slope all the way into the hole, triggering one of the loudest roars of the week.
Morikawa followed him from the same bunker, from a different angle, and McIlroy could only laugh.
“This tournament never fails to surprise,” said McIlroy. “I’ve never been so happy on a golf course. To have just one chance – and then with Collin we both played so well all day – and that we were both so exhausted I was just so happy for him too.
“I’ve never heard a roar like that on the 18th green.”
The best ones were saved for Scheffler.
Scheffler has five holes left and there’s no sign he’d be anything but the lithe, smart operator who took control in the toughest conditions on Friday to build a five-stroke lead and never close it to lose.
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