Home » Masters 2024: As Scottie Scheffler charged, his challengers suffered these Augusta gut-punches – Australian Golf Digest

Masters 2024: As Scottie Scheffler charged, his challengers suffered these Augusta gut-punches – Australian Golf Digest

Call it the power of negative thinking. In others, that is. Bobby Jones owned an aura that exerted an insidious influence on fellow competitors. So did Ben Hogan. Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods, too. More recently, five-time major winner Brooks Koepka has perhaps come closest to getting inside the heads of others. But only perhaps. What is for sure is that the mere presence of the true superstar, combined with a calm sense of inevitability in times of ultimate stress, brings to bear a pressure all its own.

Witness the 2019 Masters Tournament. With nine holes to play that year, Tony Finau looked like he might win. So did Francesco Molinari and Koepka. But another name featured on the leaderboard, that of Woods. Which was apparently what the others were thinking about most. As the soon-to-be 15-time major champion blithely went about his business as he had done over the previous 63 holes, the wide-eyed others soon enough engaged reverse gear.

The par-3 12th hole was key. All three of the ultimately unavailing challengers deposited their tee shots into Rae’s Creek. Woods did not. Five years on, definitive proof remains elusive, but the strongly held and widespread suspicion is that the close proximity of such a formidable presence had much to do with first the hesitancy and indecision, then the backward steps taken by Finau, Molinari and Koepka.

Now fast forward five years to the 2024 Masters. For “Tiger Woods” insert “Scottie Scheffler”.

The comparison between this year and 2019 is easy to make and eerie in its similarities. Scheffler has the uncanny knack of making the extraordinary look ordinary. From a distance and up close you only realise just how well he does things when you see others not quite able to match him shot-for-shot, especially when those shots really matter most.

So it was that on this Sunday, as Augusta’s fabled final day back-nine approached, four men were tied for the lead on six-under-par: Scheffler, Ludvig Aberg, Collin Morikawa and Max Homa. By the close of play, Scheffler had improved to 11-under-par, posting a closing 68 with a back-nine 33. Aberg commendably reached seven-under after taking a significant backward step, but the others had both subsided to four-under.

Here’s how it happened, big mistakes suddenly the norm.

  • Needing two to escape a greenside bunker at the ninth, Morikawa was first to succumb. Double-bogey. He would soon repeat his mistake on the 11th, hitting his approach in the water. Another double.
  • Aberg started his approach to the 11th green too far left and, when the right-to-left wind exacerbated the mistake, his ball was wet. Double.
  • Homa was last to falter, his tee shot to the ever-treacherous par-3 12th bounding into an unplayable lie in the undergrowth behind the green. Double.

Somewhere, Koepka, Finau and Molinari had to be nodding their heads in a knowing fashion at the effect of the “Scheffler factor”. Or, to paraphrase CBS’s Jim Nantz, the “confirmation of stardom”. In the same way that the most illustrious names in the game have done, the outwardly amiable 27-year-old Texan methodically inserts fear in the hearts and minds of those who dare to challenge his superiority. All while his own head remains refreshingly clear of jumble.

“Nothing,” said Rory McIlroy when asked what he thinks the now distant No.1 is thinking on the course. “Nothing. Not a lot of clutter. The game feels pretty easy when you’re in stretches like this. That’s the hard thing whenever you’re not quite in form. You are searching and you are thinking about it so much. But then when you are in form, you don’t think about anything at all.”

Beyond tributes to Scheffler’s dominance, however, this week had a significant feel. On Golf Channel, pundit Brandel Chamblee called the 88th Masters, “the dawn of dominance.” Cute alliteration, yes, but also an undeniably accurate assessment, even if Aberg isn’t quite ready to completely bend the knee.

“I think maybe yes and no,” said the Swede when asked if Scheffler’s presence on the leaderboard makes a significant impact on others. “Obviously Scottie is an unbelievable golf player, and I think we all expect him to be there when it comes down to the last couple holes of a tournament. He’s proven it again and again. He makes us better. He makes you want to beat him, obviously. That’s the same for me and the same for everyone else in this field I think. I always keep an eye on the leaderboard. It just happens to be Scottie up there a lot.”

Masters 2024: The clubs Scottie Scheffler used to win at Augusta National

That hesitancy is perhaps understandable. No competitor wants to plead second-best to another. And it is true that true superstars don’t come along very often. That is not to say that Scheffler is not currently living up to the hype, even when he is not quite on his game. As soon as he put his nose in front, those around him began to make those double-bogeys. It is too much of a coincidence to think that is not at least partly down to the intimidation he exudes.

“I love winning; I hate losing,” was Scheffler’s verdict on his second major championship victory.

Which sounds an awful lot like a guy named Woods.