Scottie Scheffler wins The Masters after holding off stunning Rory McIlroy surge

Scottie Scheffler receives the green jacket from previous champion Hideki Matsuyama  (Getty Images)
Scottie Scheffler receives the green jacket from previous champion Hideki Matsuyama (Getty Images)

It was not until after The Masters was won that Scottie Scheffler looked human after all. It turns out even the world No 1 has a four-putt from time to time, only this one at the 18th at Augusta sealed the green jacket. It was the first instance this week that Scheffler had not looked every part the best player in the game, after four days of emphatically answering those questioning whether his rise to that ranking was too quick to be deserved. His hiccup at the last only went to prove how meticulous his performance had been until that point, as did the fact he had five shots to spare walking up the final fairway.

Victory at Augusta completes a stunning ascent to the top of the game and caps a dominant run for the 25-year-old American. In the space of 56 days Scheffler has won his first professional tournament at the Phoenix Open, reached number one in the world rankings after a further two wins in four starts, and has now claimed the green jacket. He becomes just the third player in 30 years after Tiger Woods and Dustin Johnson to win the Masters as world No 1.

Yet there is still a danger, not for the first time this week, that he will be overshadowed. Scheffler came into the Masters with the talk of the tournament being about Tiger Woods. He ends the week as champion but, through no fault of his own, with considerable buzz and excitement coming from elsewhere. Woods has held the attention of Augusta in his grasp at times on his return, and on Sunday we saw a reminder that Rory McIlroy possesses that same rare power.

If Scheffler’s final round to hold off the challenge of Cameron Smith was impressive due to its control, it was McIlroy who supplied the fireworks with a stunning late surge through the field and the joint-lowest final round in Masters history. His chip-in from the bunker at the 18th to card 64, a score that is one off the course record, will be remembered as one of the greatest shots this tournament has seen. McIlroy finished second after starting the day at +1 and being 13 shots off the pace at one point this week. Again, the question will be why it took until it was too late for him to arrive.

McIlroy’s flourish should not distract from Scheffler’s victory, even if he proved to be the closest competitor to the American. For a while, it looked as if Smith, the winner of the Players Championship, would make it a close fight. Scheffler came into the final round with a three-shot lead over Smith but that was quickly whittled down to just one stroke within the first two holes.

There were nerves and it showed, only for Scheffler to produce his moment of the round. It came at the 3rd hole and the timing could not have been better. Scheffler sent a wayward drive into trees and then missed the green, with his ball tumbling back down the bank guarding the pin. Smith ended up in the same position and his ball was so close to Scheffler’s that he had to mark his ball.

McIlroy’s birdie at the 18th bunker sparked wild scenes (Getty Images)
McIlroy’s birdie at the 18th bunker sparked wild scenes (Getty Images)

It set up a situation where the two leading players faced identical shots, as if a private chipping contest had broken out during the final round of the Masters. Scheffler went first and couldn’t have made a louder statement as he bumped his ball up the bank and saw it roll into the hole for a chip-in birdie. It was a sensational shot, a truly unbelievable moment before McIlroy matched the drama later on, and it rattled Smith. The Australian pitched his shot long of the pin. The par putt missed and a bogey followed. Another came at the next and from being in with a shot of taking the lead it was now at four.

Scheffler extinguishing Smith’s insurgence so soon into the round threatened to turn the final day into a procession. But of course it never goes that way at Augusta and there was something magical happening up ahead, as McIlroy hauled himself back into the red with two early bridies and then didn’t look back. His run, fuelled by putts being drained from 10, 20, 30 feet, chips too, was electric. A sublime approach at the 13th left him a putt for eagle. Of course it dropped.

There are few players in the world as enjoyable to watch when in this form and the most emotional moment of the day was when McIlroy’s bunker shot snaked into the cup. Somehow, Collin Morikawa then produced the same shot and for a moment the fight for the championship was forgotten in the haze left by McIlroy, who had run out of holes but roared in celebration of his finest moment at Augusta by far.

Smith, who rekindled some embers of his challenge with a stunning birdie at the notoriously tough 11th, immediately threw his chances into the flames as he sent his tee shot into the water, as another contender met their end at Amen Corner. From there, and with McIlroy in the clubhouse, Scheffler built on his lead with a further two birdies - enough of a cushion for a final blemish. It was needed, but would be savoured by a humble champion who may have to get used to being the best in the world.