Okay, his Hero World Challenge victory in late 2023 won’t be one that’ll feature heavily in any documentaries on Scottie Scheffler’s career, and the $1 million (minus taxes) addition will barely register on his bank account, but with a month to go before the 2024 PGA Tour season kicks off at the Sentry, it served as a gentle reminder that he’s the world number one for a reason.
A 20-man field – even one as star studded as that assembled in The Bahamas – always has the potential for a runaway victor, so to see the world number one in cruise control should really come as little surprise, but the ease with which he pulled clear on Saturday and the composed and professional manner with which he closed it out was a timely reminder that when he putts well, he’s virtually unbeatable.
Tiger Woods’ comeback was the big story, and naturally so. We saw enough from Woods this week to suggest that a record 83rd PGA Tour win is possible, as is a 16th Major Championship win, but since he’s only likely to tee it up in the biggest events, he’s going to have to beat Scheffler, Rory McIlroy, Viktor Hovland, Justin Thomas, and all of the other elite players.
Tiger’s long game was encouraging, and the fact that he produced four rounds without any noticeable decline in his abilities was even more so, but as we all know, scoring is as much about limiting errors and recovering when they come, and that’s where his troubles arose.
Woods is not the Tiger of old – 2009 is probably the last time we really saw him as the unquestioned best player in the world – but of course, and 2019 was the best evidence of this, it’s still in there somewhere. But he’s 48 in a few weeks, and despite his impressive physique, his joints must be closer to those of an ageing American Football player than those of an ageing golfer.
Viktor Hovland may have been the hottest player in the world for the past few months, but it’s worth remembering that Scheffler came third in the Memorial which was the first of Hovland’s big wins in 2023, was second to him again at the BMW Championship, was tied for third in the Genesis Scottish Open, solo third at the US Open and finished tied for second with Hovland at the PGA Championship, all the while struggling with the putter.
Such levels of consistency haven’t really been seen since Woods was at the peak of his powers, and though there’s been a steady turnover at the top of the rankings in the past dozen or so years, the putting aside, Scheffler has no weaknesses in his game and the putting was vastly improved this week.
Now working with renowned coach Phil Kenyon, slight adjustments to his grip and the angle at which he holds the shaft saw him pick up strokes on the field with the flatstick for one of the only times in 2023. One swallow doesn’t make a summer, but given his results with substandard putting stats, it’s scary to think of what he may produce in the coming year if he turns his biggest weakness into a weapon.
Tiger’s return to something resembling an active schedule in 2024 will always lead the pre-tournament narratives, but there’s better than a good chance that Scheffler will be the man who dominates Monday headlines.