Australian star Cameron Smith birdied the first two holes of the final round to get within a shot of the lead before capitulating as world No.1 Scottie Scheffler won the Masters.
Smith’s early charge faltered when he bogeyed the third and fourth holes and while he briefly revived his hopes with an incredible birdie at the 11th, considered the toughest hole on the course, the Aussie fell apart on the 12th with a triple-bogey after finding the water with an aggressive tee shot. From that point on Smith melted, completely releasing the pressure valve on the American star at the top of the leaderboard, with Scheffler cruising to his first major title.
Even after a bizarre final hole, with Scheffler incredibly missing two very short putts to drop back to 10-under, it was a comfortable victory, with Rory McIlroy three shots behind in second after a stunning final round 64 gave him an outside chance of victory .
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McIlroy finished at 7-under, two shots ahead of Smith and Shane Lowry, who tied for third at 5-under.
Scheffler’s victory capped off an amazing two months for the 25-year-old.
It was just 56 days ago that Scheffler was still searching for his first PGA Tour victory. The Dallas native, built for stardom from when he was a 10-year-old wearing long pants to look the part of a pro, now has four wins in his last six tournaments.
No prize was greater than that green jacket.
The Monday (AEDT) theater, thrilling and tragic, belonged to everyone else. Scheffler overcame a nervy moment early in the round by chipping in for birdie. He delivered key putts to keep Cameron Smith at bay and never looked rattled, even as he was swatting at short putts at the end.
McIlroy was the runner-up. It was Smith who felt as though he let one get away, closing with a 73.
Scheffler joined Ian Woosnam in 1991 as the only players to win a major – the Masters in both cases – in their debut at No.1 in the world.
Everyone should have seen this coming. He won the Phoenix Open in a playoff on Super Bowl Sunday. He followed that with a comeback win at Bay Hill to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational. He rose to No.1 in the world by winning the Match Play two weeks ago in Texas.
And now this.
Scheffler, who finished at 10-under 278, won $ 3.6 million from the $ 20 million prize fund. That brings his total to almost $ 12 million over his last six starts.
Scheffler’s big moment came early in the round, and it was no less significant.
Starting the final round with a three-shot lead, he watched Smith open with two straight birds to cut the deficit to one, and then Scheffler’s approach from the pine needles left of the third fairway came up short and rolled back down the slope.
His pitch was racing toward the hole when it banged into the pin and dropped for an unlikely birdie, and a two-shot swing when Smith from the same position made bogey.
No one got closer than three the rest of the way. Only the contenders changed.
The 12th hole remains the most riveting par 3 in golf, the scene of more collapses than comebacks. Smith became the latest victim.
Coming off birdie at No.11, his shot was still in the air when he let his club slip through his hands and he slowly closed his eyes twice as it splashed into Rae’s Creek. The next shot wasn’t much better, but at least dry, and Smith’s hopes ended there with a triple bogey.
Smith’s Masters dreams gone after shot finds the water
He was three behind standing on the 12th tee. Three holes later, he was eight back.
From there, any hope resided with McIlroy. All he needed to complete the career Grand Slam was to match the best final round in Masters history and get some help from Scheffler. He only got one of those and had to settle for his first silver medal from Augusta.
Not that he didn’t create some magic. McIlroy went bunker-to-bunker on the 18th hole, leaving himself right of the green and aiming some 25 feet right of the flag. It rode the slope all the way into the hole, setting off one of the loudest roars of the week.
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Morikawa followed him in from the same bunker, different angle, and McIlroy could only laugh.
“This tournament never ceases to amaze,” McIlroy said. “That’s as happy as I’ve ever been on a golf course right there. Just having a chance – and then with Collin, we both played so well all day – and for both of us to finish like this, I was just so happy for him, too.
“I’ve never heard roars like on the 18th green.”
The best ones were saved for Scheffler.
Scheffler still had five holes in front of him, with no evidence he was going to be anything but the smooth, smart operator who seized control on Saturday (AEDT) in the toughest conditions to build a five-shot lead and never lost it.
– with AP
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