AUGUSTA, Ga. – Randy Smith has seen it all in his days as an instructor for PGA Tour winners, including for Justin Leonard when he won the British Open in 1997. Twenty-five years later, he’s the coach of another talented Texan, World No. 1 Scottie Scheffler, and watching him play at Augusta National in the 86th edition of the Masters still remains a nail-biting experience.
“Yesterday was easy,” Smith said of watching Scheffler shoot 67 on Friday to claim a five-stroke lead at the midway point. “Today’s had a little more drama.”
And those words were uttered before he took three putts at 15 and hooked his tee shot at 18 into a bush and scrambled to salvage bogey. Scheffler, who at one time held a seven-stroke lead over his closest competitor, signed for 1-under 71 and a three-stroke edge over Cameron Smith heading into the final round with a Green Jacket at stake.
“Scrapping and scraping,” Smith said. “He made a couple of mistakes but he didn’t shoot his foot off.”
On a bitterly cold, cloudy day when players dressed in layers, Scheffler, 25, birdied four of his first eight holes to stretch his lead and suck most of the drama out of the season’s first men’s major. But winning a first major is no easy task.
While he made one bogey in touring the first nine in 3-under 33, the second nine was more eventful. He made three bogeys in a four-hole stretch beginning at No. 12. The 3-putt bogey at 15 trimmed Scheffler’s lead over Smith, who was in the clubhouse after posting 68 and a 54-hole total of 6-under 210, to three. But Scheffler bounced back with a nifty approach to 4 feet and his sixth birdie of the day and tournament-best 17th birdie of the week.
“Things haven’t been going quite right and he hit two of the best shots you’ll ever see in your life,” Smith said.
He paused and added, “I can’t tell you what happened on the 18th tee but I’m going to find out.”
Allow Scheffler to describe his dreadful duck hook. “Teddy was like, ‘I saw it clip a branch,’ we’re like, ‘No big deal, just be over there on the left and chip out, whatever.’ And then we saw the guy with the flag that always finds the balls kind of panicking,” Scheffler recounted. “I was like, ‘Oh, crap, wonder what’s going on here.’ ”
The ball was located in a bush and Scheffler took an unplayable lie and drilled a 3-iron from the pine straw that flew 255 yards to just over the green and he took two putts from there to wrap up his round of 71, making him the only player in the field to break par in all three rounds, and a 54-hole total of 9-under 207.
“You hate bogeying the last hole, but the way I bogeyed it, it for sure felt like a par,” Scheffler said. “Definitely a good finish to the day.”
This marks Scheffler’s third career 54-hole lead or co-lead – the 2020 American Express and 2021 Houston Open were the previous occasions – and both times he failed to seal the deal on Sunday. But those failures seem a lifetime ago, before Scheffler showed his moxie in September’s Ryder Cup and won three of his last five starts in 2022 and ascended to World No. 1.
“What Scheffler’s doing is insane,” said 2018 Masters champion Patrick Reed.
As a testament to Scheffler’s new-found confidence, Smith noted the putting contests back at Royal Oaks Golf Club in Dallas, where Scheffler still takes on all comers.
“He’s a little cockier with the little kids who follow him around back home at the club,” Smith said. “You will address me as No. 1. There’s been little things like that.”
Smith said that a three-stroke lead going into the final round of the Masters is what Scheffler always has dreamed of since they started having putting contests at age 7 with the Masters on the line. Even with Smith and Sungjae Im, solo third at 4 under, as the only players within five strokes of the lead, Smith is ready to watch another nail biter.
“The biggest thing he can do is not change his plans and his programs, and not be on the defensive side,” Smith said. “He’s gotta stay on the offensive side; if he stays on the offensive side, I think it’s served him pretty well; that’s offense with a great deal of common sense.”
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