Scheffler's seismic surge

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The world number-one sits atop the golf world. M. James Ward examines whether Scottie Scheffler is ready to place a lasting flag on golf's Mount Everest at this week's Masters.
Posted on
April 9, 2024
by
M. James Ward in
Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

AUGUSTA, GA. When the baton at the top of golf's pecking order is passed there is generally no one single moment that provides the rightful coronation. Yes, there have been clear isolated moments such as when a 22-year-old Jack Nicklaus bested Arnold Palmer for the 1962 U.S. Open at Oakmont. In 1997 Tiger Woods did similarly when winning his first major event at Augusta and doing so with a record 12-stroke margin.

When Nicklaus and Woods each won it was clear a new pecking order was established. The seismic waves generated were that intense and meaningful.

The ascension of Scottie Scheffler has moved upwards via a more incremental process The first came at the 2021 Ryder Cup matches when USA Captain Steve Stricker selected the rookie as a member of the American squad.

The illuminating moment from that event in Wisconsin came when Scheffler was paired against Jon Rahm in the final singles matches.

Sheffler's seismic surge
Scottie Scheffler at the 2023 Ryder Cup (Zac Goodwin/PA Wire)

Many viewed the match as a one-sided situation for the gifted Spaniard. Stricker thought otherwise – birdieing five of the first six holes and cruising to what many saw as an unexpected win.

Fast track matters to 2024 and you have a confident 27-year-old ready to cement his place at the top of the pecking order with a second major triumph this week at Augusta.

The talented Texan – via New Jersey birth – has been number one for a total of 81 weeks and carries a streak of 47 weeks that started March 22, 2023.

Questions started to mill around at the beginning of this season that Scheffler's last win on the PGA TOUR had been at the 2023 Players Championships. Scheffler did play well in the 2023 majors with a runner-up at the PGA Championship and finishing in the top ten in two of the other three events.

Scheffler did not react verbally and part of his success comes from a quiet confidence and the incredible work ethic and solid team he has built around himself.

This year he has played in eight events on the PGA TOUR and finished outside the top ten in only one of them. Consider for example Rory McIlroy. Until last week's event in San Antonio -- the four-time major winner had not cracked the top ten in five previous events

Scheffler cranked matters up considerably starting at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in Orlando with a solid final round bogey-free 66 to capture the title. The very next week he took matters even further at The Players. Trailing by five he scored a remarkable 64 which featured no blemishes on the card.

In winning at the always treacherous TPC Sawgrass, Scheffler accomplished what no other players had done in the history of the event – defending his title. His 72-hole score of 268 tied for the second lowest ever scored at the Pete Dye design.

Superman Scheffler Soaring
Scottie Scheffler hits a shot to the green from the first fairway during the final round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational (AP Photo/John Raoux)

In his final performance prior to this week's Masters he nearly won again in Houston with a tied runner-up finish.

Scheffler's talents have always been front and center but the way he plays in final rounds is what is astonishing and similar to what Tiger Woods was able to do during his peak years. When he won at Augusta Scheffler did what Woods had done 25 years prior – winning in his third start and notching his fourth PGA TOUR win.

But this year has seen Scheffler put his foot down even harder on the gas.

Scheffler's final round stroke average is a mind numbing 66.63. Make no mistake about this – others players are well aware of his presence - at all times. In the high stakes pressure cauldron that is elite professional golf – the wherewithal to avoid mistakes and keep moving forward is what separates the elite superstar from the pack.

Scottie's prowess stems from an air-tight tee-to-green execution. He leads the PGA TOUR in greens in regulation with a 76.13 mark. That means Scheffler is placing his ball on the green, on average, 14 times in the regulation stroke.

Do the math on that for 72 holes and he's putting for either birdie or eagle a whopping 56 times. The simple reality is that when you give yourself more opportunities, you have more possibilities for scoring success.

This year Scheffler is averaging 5.5 birdies per round. If his play is free of any pratfalls he's nearly always near the mark of -20 for the week.

In years past the main Achilles heel for Scheffler has been a balky putter. When he won the 2022 Masters the sight of him being the only Masters champion to four-putt the final hole was a wincing moment spoiling the fitting ending it deserved.

Scheffler has smartly avoided all the off-course dialogue about such issues as LIV and what is happening on a possible merger with the PGA TOUR. Let other players spend their time debating such matters – Scottie and his team have applied themselves elsewhere.

Winning a single major, while notable, is something a number of top tier players can accomplish.

The pathway to greatness is winning multiple ones.

The standing one achieves among one's peers is considerable. When Rahm captured the 2023 Masters he outplayed Brook Koepka during the final round and demonstrated in convincing fashion his first major triumph at the 2021 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines was no flash in the pan moment.

The 88th Masters will mean a reshuffling of the cards at the very pinnacle of professional golf. Scheffler knows full well yesterday's success is only meaningful until you step on the tee and put into motion the skills previously demonstrated. On the flip side – his chief rivals know the manner of his play in 2023 has clearly risen.

The possibilities for a monster year are certainly present. A second major win at Augusta this week will send seismic ripples through the sport and place Scheffler in the highest of clouds.

Scottie Scheffler celebrates after winning The Players Championship (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

Scheffler doesn't need to get into the infantile "look at me" comments some might pronounce. To paraphrase former successful NFL coach Bill Parcells – "you are what your golf scores say you are."

To say the least his most recent competitive rounds have an amplifier attached to them.

Golf stars such as Nicklaus and Woods were rarely overwhelmed by the major moments faced. Scheffler is now poised to do similarly.

We shall see.

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About M. James Ward

A GWAA and MGWA member, the 66-year-old from the USA has covered golf in all facets since 1980, notably the major championships and other high level events. He has played over 2,000 courses globally and has competed in USGA Championships.

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