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The only thing that Rory McIlroy didn’t throw at Scottie Scheffler on an unforgettable final day at the 86th Masters was the kitchen sink – and still it wasn’t enough.
McIlroy at his most magnificent chipped in twice and holed an outrageous bunker shot at the 18th on his way to a 64 to equal the lowest final round in Masters history.
The Northern Irishman hasn’t known such joy at a major since his last victory in 2014, as he threw his arms into the air and his club into the bunker.
‘That’s the happiest I’ve ever been on a golf course,’ he said afterwards, as they replayed his wonder blow from the sand.
Added three-time Masters champion Sir Nick Faldo, on American television: ‘I’ve got goosebumps watching that shot, I’m shaking.’
Sundays at Augusta. In golf, there really is nothing like it.
Scottie Scheffler (right) has won the Masters tournament at Augusta after a dominant showing
The 25-year-old kissed his wife Meredith (left) on the 18th green after holing the winning putt
An emotional Scheffler was embraced by caddie Tim Scott (left) after winning his first Major
The roar was incredible. ‘The loudest I’ve ever heard,’ said Rory. It funnelled all the way back to the 14th tee and asked all the right questions of the cool 25 year old from Texas, who held a three shot lead but had five scary holes still to complete.
Could Scheffler keep his nerve? By his side, Cam Smith had lost his, the Aussie’s mind scrambled completely after the 12th, the perilous par three known as the Golden Bell, tolled once more.
Smith found the water with his tee shot and took a triple bogey six, his eyes now as blank as a boxer who’s just been knocked to the canvas.
Amazing as it seems now, it’s only a fortnight ago that people were questioning whether Scheffler was a worthy new world number one. Now he’s won the Masters the hard way, playing in the last group for three straight days and leading from the front for the whole weekend when a gunslinger like McIlroy went for everything and everything came off.
Suffice to say, no-one’s questioning Scheffler now, after he became the first golfer since Arnold Palmer way back in 1960 to walk out of Augusta with four wins for the season already, including a precious first major.
If McIlroy’s three at the 18th was the most remarkable birdie of the day, the one made by Scheffler at the 14th was the most impressive. It’s one of those greens where the actual target is so small but he found it with a wedge, his ball finishing just 5ft away. What a response to one of those intimidating Augusta roars.
Scheffler led for much of the tournament and kept his composure throughout to triumph
Just as he had in sinking nerveless par putts from 10ft at the 11th and 12th, Scheffler holed the birdie effort. He followed that up with two more prodigious blows on the par five 15th and got down in two for yet another birdie. Five clear. Game over. Give that man the most deserved of green jackets.
In the end, three putts from 4ft at the 18th mattered not a jot as he lost concentration for a moment.
Scheffler still finished with a 71 for a three stroke victory over McIlroy, with Ireland’s Shane Lowry third after also birdieing the 18th, alongside the shellshocked Smith, who cleared his senses admirably over the closing holes. Open Champion Collin Morikawa, who played with Rory and shot a fine 67 of his own, finished fifth.
After all the excitement regarding the comeback of Tiger Woods, it was only fitting that the generation he inspired put on a stupendous show after he had left the stage. McIlroy grew up with posters of Tiger on his bedroom wall. Scheffler was wearing Tiger-patented golf shoes for the final round.
Following a decidedly mixed week of weather, the saving grace was one of those blessed spring days in Georgia with warm sunshine greeting the players as they made their way to the first tee.
At ten shots behind at the start of play, McIlroy knew there was nothing for it but to go for broke. You could tell by the frequent pleadings that followed his iron shots that he was playing with the finest of margins.
Yet this is often when he plays his best. Not only is Tiger back, but the return of the real Rory. What a week.
Throughout the event, McIlroy’s driving had been stupendous but he had failed to take advantage. Now he capitalised, beginning at the first with a wedge that finished 8ft away. At the third he was the only player all day to drive the green and he two putted for another birdie.
You need moments of good fortune to go low at Augusta and he got one with a slippery chip-in for a birdie at the 7th. Another birdie arrived at the 8th and then another chip-in for a three at the 10th.
At the 11th he holed a vital momentum-saver for par from 10ft and then struck a fabulous iron over Rae’s Creek to 8ft at the 13th. When he rolled that in for an eagle three he was seven under for the round and suddenly anything seemed possible.
A poor three wood at the 14th meant he could only find the front of the green with his approach. On this green where an elephant appears to have been buried, he played an exquisite chip, using one of the outrageous humps with the ball coming back to just 18 inches from the hole.
In 52 rounds at Augusta, McIlroy has made only one eagle at the par five 15th, and the drive was left once more, leaving him stymied behind the trees.
McIlroy thought his wedge approach was perfect but it bounded on to 12ft, missing the target shelf he was aiming for by inches. ‘How much did that skip?’ he said to his caddy, dropping to his haunches. The birdie putt skipped agonizingly past the hole.
It looked all over when he went from bunker to bunker at the 18th, but then came that moment of magic to complete the only bogey-free round seen all week.
It didn’t get him the career Grand Slam but if it doesn’t give him his mojo back with regard to the majors in general, then nothing will. He probably wishes the USPGA Championship in Tulsa next month could start tomorrow.
Moments after McIlroy’s shot Morikawa, from the same bunker, also holed for a birdie. The standard is now so high among these young players it is positively ridiculous.
Typical Rory, the golf nerd. He threw his arms in the air when Morikawa holed his sand shot like he was just another patron. The pair walked off the 18th green arm in arm. This might not be the only time you see them throwing darts at one another this year.
But it was Scheffler’s week, just as it has been Scheffler’s year to this point. A fortnight after feeling on top of the world, the game’s number one has ascended to a still higher plane.