What his ‘weird’ Masters taught the defending champion about Augusta National
Is it too late to parse the Masters? It is not! And so we shall, in particular the surprisingly quiet week of the then world’s top-ranked player, Scottie Scheffler. The defending champion began the fourth round nine shots behind Brooks Koepka. If Scheffler was somehow going to catch Koepka or whomever else might ascend the leaderboard Sunday afternoon, he had much work to do.
Scheffler had had a “weird week” (his words) to that point. He struck the ball “amazing” (his word again) en route to a first-round, four-under 68 but couldn’t make a putt, a trend that bled into the second round, where he posted an ugly 75. He felt so out of sorts on the course that had been so good to him a year earlier that he said it “felt like a little bit of an out-of-body experience.”
In trying conditions in the start-and-stop-and-start third round, Scheffler arrived at the famed par-3 12th, that dastardly little hole where green-jacket dreams go to die, at even for the day. As he launched a short iron greenward, he looked worried, and rightfully so. He’d yanked it, his ball flying into the bushes long and left. When he discovered his Titleist was unplayable (“it should have come out of the bushes,” Scheffler said Wednesday from the RBC Heritage), he took a drop, then converted a nifty up-and-down from the edge of the shrubs for a bogey 4. Scheffler birdied the two remaining par-5s — 13 and 15 — and signed for a one-under 71.
When the fourth round finally commenced Sunday, Scheffer, at two under through 54 holes, wasn’t in the discussion. With three field goals between him and Koepka, no one was talking about the ’22 Masters winner potentially presenting the green jacket to himself later that day.
When Scheffler went out in three-under 33, he still wasn’t a real threat. But after another birdie at the tough par-4 11th, he was starting to feel himself.
Which brings us to his ensuing tee shot, back on the same hole that had befuddled him a round earlier. Scheffler elected to hit a 9-iron and, well, you might have heard that unpredictable wind patterns on this hole can do strange things to golf balls. “I hit it the way I wanted to, it just kind of got in the jet stream,” Scheffler said.
Typically, he hits a 9-iron about 155 yards. This shot, he said, went about 180.
His ball once again nosedived into the bushes behind the green and refused to bound back. Another goner. Another unplayable. This time resulting in a momentum-wrecking double bogey.
“No. 12 killed me this week,” Scheffler said after his round. “I still had a chance almost where I could post a score. I made a birdie on 11 and made a good swing there on 12.” Well, yeah, good until the golf gods decided otherwise.
On the next hole, the newly lengthened do-or-die par-5 13th, Scheffler missed the fairway in the right rough, but still played the hero shot with his second — just not well, muffle-hooking his ball into Rae’s Creek. “I was trying to make up all the shots at once there going for the green out of the rough,” he said. If Scheffler had parred 12, he said Sunday, “situationally I probably would have treated  different, but that was just me being a little immature, being out of the tournament.”
He saved par at 13 and played the remaining five holes in even to finish with a two-under 70 and, eventually, in a tie for 10th, still mystified by how he had played Augusta’s shortest hole in three over for the week.
“Stuff happens on that golf course,” Scheffler said Wednesday, reflecting on a conversation he had had with his caddie, Ted Scott. “I told Teddy, I just said I’m glad I made that mistake when we were eight shots back versus either last year when we were in the lead or in the years coming when we’re hoping to be close to the lead or in it again. It’s just a learning experience.”
At Augusta National, there’s an endless supply of them.