Scheffler makes it look easy with opening 66

Mark McGowan

Scottie Scheffler in action on day one at the Masters (Photo: Chloe Knott/Masters Media)

Mark McGowan

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He came in as the shortest-priced Masters favourite since Tiger Woods, and Scottie Scheffler did little to suggest that he won’t be getting fitted for a second Green Jacket on Sunday evening after shooting a bogey-free 66 to end day one in solo-second, one shy of early pace setter Bryson DeChambeau.

But as impressive as DeChambeau’s 65 was, the winds that Scheffler encountered, particularly on the second nine, were much more severe than those faced by the LIV golfer who finished two hours earlier.

Playing alongside Rory McIlroy and Xander Schauffele, who shot creditable rounds of one-under and level-par respectively, the trio got their rounds underway at 13:12 local time after a two-and-a-half hour weather delay and though the course had been saturated overnight, the strong winds saw the course – and the greens in particular – firm up considerably over the course of the day.

Birdies at the par-5 second and par-3 sixth got him to -2 after the first third of the round, but were it not for a short miss on three, it could so easily have been -3. Five pars followed, but the round really came alive on ‘Golden Bell’, the iconic par-3 12th. Having hit his tee shot right over the flag which was bang in the centre of the narrowest part of the green, he was unfortunate to see it trickle into the back bunker, but his fortunes soon turned, playing a delightful splash shot that caught the pin in the centre and dropped for birdie, moving him to -3.

His prayers were answered when his pushed approach on 13 somehow clung onto the slope above the Raes’ Creek tributary, and a deft chip left another short birdie putt to get to -4. That became -5 when his eagle putt on 15 just slid by, and then a laser-like tee shot on 16 set up another birdie putt from inside three feet and he was just one back.

He came up a couple of rolls shy of tying the lead on 17, then after finding the fairway bunker at the last, two-putted from the front of the green to sign off on an extremely impressive and ominous opening salvo that only goes to heighten the expectation that he’ll capture his second major title this week and cement his status as the best player in the game.

The most impressive aspect was how effortless he made it all seem. The tee shot on seven and the second shot on 13 were the only shots that you could say were sub-par, and he had a tap-in par after a sublime bunker shot on the former and a near tap-in birdie on the latter.

Speaking after the round, the world number one was understandably satisfied with his opening score, especially given the tricky conditions as 30mph winds swept through the pine corridors of Augusta National.

“When I was walking up to the first tee, I was fairly surprised with how many people were under par already,” Scheffler said. “Going into today with the forecast the way it was supposed to be, and I’ve played this tournament once before in some pretty high winds, and it’s an extremely challenging golf course.

“And, yeah, I felt like today I just did a really good job of — Teddy [Scott, Scheffler’s caddie], I would say, did a really good job of kind of guessing the wind correctly, if that makes sense. You know, we stole a few shots on the par 3s, I felt like, and then I played the par 5s well.”

McIlroy was full of praise for Scheffler’s efficiency when he was interviewed post-round, saying that limiting mistakes is crucial to winning majors and that, right now, nobody does that better than the big Texan.

“Yeah. I mean, I think in terms of these tournaments, yeah, I think limiting your mistakes, obviously a lot easier said than done,” Scheffler agreed when he was informed of Rory’s words. “But, yeah, limiting your mistakes is important. It’s important to kind of keep that momentum of the round going. And I felt like today, when I was in some challenging spots on some tough holes, did a good job of pitching it up there nice and close.”

Coming into the week, Scheffler had said that, should his wife, who is due to give birth to their first born in a couple of weeks, go into labour early, then he’ll be straight out the door and there’s a sneaking suspicion that it’s going to take something like that to stop him from getting major number two and his third win in his last four starts. And he reiterated his intent to abandon ship if needs be.

“Yeah, I’m ready to go at a moment’s notice,” he said. “I wouldn’t say I’m very concerned. We haven’t seen any of the early signs. But pregnancy is weird. It can happen at any time. Yeah, open lines of communication and she can get ahold of me if she needs to.”

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