When he won his first PGA tournament two months ago, Scottie Scheffler was another one of those golfers you think you’ve seen before, but you’re not sure where. He doesn’t have a weird mustache or dress like the host of a children’s show – two ways golfers like to stand out. Scheffler is relentlessly, almost aggressively, normal.
The only way a guy like that is going to distinguish himself is by winning a bunch of stuff all at once.
So that’s what Scheffler’s done. In the space of 56 days, he’s won the Phoenix Open, the Arnold Palmer, a big match-play event in Austin and, on Sunday, golf’s pre-eminent prize – the Masters.
It’s more than a meteoric rise. If meteors could launch smaller meteors that went even faster, that’s what this is. Right now, Scheffler is lapping the entire sport of golf.
At No. 18, with the sun dipping, Scheffler nervously blew two short putts by the hole before gathering himself to close it out. Then he hugged what felt like every single person in the gallery
As usual, CBS’s Jim Nantz – sports broadcasting’s would-be Barbara Walters – tried to make the winner cry. Scheffler brushed him aside.
“Where do you go from here?” Nantz said breathily.
“I’m going home,” Scheffler said. “I’m tired.”
Take away the private jets and then squint and you can almost see a man of the people.
Scheffler isn’t what you’d call an electric performer. His expression after each shot – a slight downturning at the edges of his mouth – is the same whether he’s just made the highlight reel or pranged one into the shrubbery. He doesn’t hit it further than all the other guys or have a remarkable short game. His greatest skill is his luck – when things go right, they go very right; when they go wrong, he’s able to fix them before they run off the rails.
Take Scheffler’s first three drives on Sunday. He yanked each of them like he was aiming for the parking lot, dropping two shots from his three-shot lead. You could feel another great Augusta collapse in the making.
But at the third, Scheffler made an impossible uphill bump-and-run for birdie. And that was essentially that.
Australian comer Cameron Smith – another guy on a real heater this season – hung on Scheffler’s hip for most of the round. But Smith’s luck ran out when he put one in the water at the 12th and collapsed.
There’s a difference between good luck and good fortune. The former happens to you. The latter can sometimes be willed into existence. Scheffler had both this week. Everyone else had one or neither.
Perpetual Masters contender Rory McIlroy had great fortune on Sunday. He scored 64 – tied for lowest final round in Augusta history. His bunker shot at 18, which he holed out for a birdie to end the round, was one for the ages.
But though he was fortunate, McIlroy’s luck was terrible. Of course he would have the greatest day of his Masters career when he started nine shots off the lead. And of course it would end him up in second place – another Greg Norman championship for a guy who just needs a Masters to become an all-timer.
Another fortunate guy – Canada’s Corey Conners. He had his second rock-solid Masters in a row, finishing tied for sixth. All he’s missing is some luck.
If Scheffler represented this year’s man blessed by the golfing angels on Sunday, Tiger Woods was the one who fell from grace.
Woods finished Sunday at 13-over for the tournament – his worst performance in a Masters. Considering the stage and the unfairly bright spotlight, it was one of his worst performances in history.
As the weekend wore on, Woods became the study of man accepting his fate. He’d come out roaring on Thursday. That prompted everyone to write their “Could he really do it?” story.
He held his own on Day 2, enough to make the cut. Luck was turning Woods’s way.
By Saturday, gravity had got hold of him, literally and metaphorically. As the days wore on, his limp – the result of a car crash 14 months ago that necessitated a reconstructed right leg – grew more prominent. By the end of his rounds, as exhaustion set in, Woods was throwing himself forward to keep moving.
On Sunday, he seemed more resigned than disappointed. When a couple of yobs yelled “Get in the hole!” through his backswing, Woods didn’t even bother looking irritated. By that point, he was one of us – another guy grinding through the work day, trying to make it to Miller Time.
Fans still fawned over him, which will never change. But there was something different about the way they talked about Woods on the broadcast. The usual reverence often edged into pity: ”He didn’t win. He played 72 holes though, and it was truly triumphant.”
It was? The guy wasn’t playing one-armed out of an iron lung. Let’s take it easy.
You can already see Woods being shoved into the “living legend” phase of his career. That’s a nicer way of saying that while you may still be breathing, you’re already finished.
“I think it was a positive,” Woods said of his performance, not sounding very positive at all. “I’ve got some work to do. I’m looking forward to it.”
A few minutes later, he came out of Butler Cabin to see his family. His legs had tightened up and he could barely make it up a small incline. He looked enfeebled.
For every great pro, luck either finds you, ignores you or deserts you. Occasionally, it will follow you along for a while. Very occasionally, you can speak it into existence – “Couple of lucky breaks here and there,” Smith, the unfortunate Australian, said afterward. “I feel like I’ll be putting on the green jacket some day.”
And for those who are coming to the end – as you’re starting to feel has already happened to Woods – the luck just runs out.