The hidden side of politics

Four players facing the toughest test in golf: Beating Scottie Scheffler

Reported by ESPN:

AUGUSTA, Ga. — They say the roars at the Masters get louder on the weekend, and no applause was louder or more consequential on Saturday than the one that erupted from the far corner of the property on the 13th green at Augusta National Golf Club. There, world No. 1 Scottie Scheffler reminded competitors and patrons alike: He was, is and will be the player to beat.

With 31 feet left for eagle, Scheffler was freed up. He wasn’t thinking about the 3-foot miss on the 10th hole that resulted in a double bogey or the 10-foot miss on 11 that put him back at 4 under. Instead, he was thinking about reclaiming ownership of the tournament. The putt snaked its way up the green before slipping into the right side of the hole.

The typically even-keeled Scheffler couldn’t help but fist pump, and the echoing ovations further highlighted the reality that faced players trying to make their Saturday move:

What happens when the guy standing between you and a green jacket is already wearing one?

It’s a question that has been relevant even before the tournament began, when Scheffler — the 2022 Masters champion — arrived having won two tournaments already this season, owning seven top-10 finishes to his name and the best ballstriking the sport has seen since Tiger Woods was in his prime.

By the time the third round ended, it was no surprise that Scheffler’s name was the only one at 7-under par, one stroke clear of second place. The only surprise might have been that he had conducted the day’s loudest roar with his putter.

“That’s why I think you saw a bit of emotion there from me on 13,” Scheffler said. “Because it was an important time in the tournament.”

The impact of Scheffler’s putter reverberated throughout the course. From the 13th fairway awaiting their second shots into the green, Max Homa and Bryson DeChambeau had images to go along with the music. The 36-hole leaders, along with Scheffler, could only wait and look on as Scheffler grabbed the lead that was once theirs. Now, they had to catch him.

DECHAMBEAU HAS ALREADY experienced what a major championship win feels like. In 2020, a brawnier version of the LIV Golf star took down one of the toughest U.S. Open tests in recent history at Winged Foot. A lot has happened since then, including equipment changes, fitness changes and even DeChambeau calling Augusta National a par 67 and subsequently apologizing for it.

“He’s one of the best players in the world,” Phil Mickelson said Saturday of DeChambeau. “He might do it differently than other players, but that’s part of his beauty. He’s just an incredible talent.”

The self-declared more mature, more patient DeChambeau showed up to Augusta this week and shot the lowest round of the tournament so far with his 65 on Thursday. Thanks to a thrilling hole out for birdie on 18 that reignited DeChambeau’s Sunday chances and put him 4 shots behind Scheffler, another 65 might be necessary if DeChambeau wants to put on a green jacket.

HOMA, FOR HIS PART, has never quite had a moment like this. The three-time PGA Tour winner has notably underperformed in major championships, with his best finish coming at the most recent major after a top 10 at last year’s Open Championship. But all week, Homa has stayed within himself and found success by — as he put it — embracing the nerves.

“Just because you’re nervous and uncomfortable doesn’t mean you’re not going to succeed,” Homa said. “I feel like I showed myself that. Even if I am nervous tomorrow, just embrace it a little bit.”

After watching Scheffler take back the lead from the 13th fairway, Homa didn’t waver. He had just made his first bogey of the day on 11, and it would be his only blemish, allowing him to stay 2 shots back of Scheffler headed into Sunday.

“I came here with the gratitude and appreciation that I get to do it,” Homa said. “I’m happy I get to do it tomorrow. I’m going to remind myself I’m a dog and I’m ready for this moment.”

ACROSS RAE’S CREEK, on the 14th hole, Collin Morikawa must have heard Scheffler making a move. Not too long ago, Morikawa was the one bringing the roars, taking the golf world by storm and winning two majors by the time he was 24. He is 27 now, and instead of becoming the sport’s next superstar, he has stalled. He has only won one PGA Tour event since 2021. And though he has posted three top-10 finishes at majors over the past two years, it has never felt like he has been close to adding a third.

“I’ve been searching since 2022,” Morikawa said. “It’s been a struggle the past few years, and it hasn’t been fun … sometimes you’re searching, and I had to search. You have to find something.”

Despite changing putters in the middle of the tournament and holding on to a swing feel for dear life, Morikawa has found something this week, and though he’s reluctant to share exactly what it is until it lasts for 72 holes, he has drawn the necessary confidence going into Sunday as he sits only 1 shot back from Scheffler.

FACING HIS OWN challenge on the par-5 15th, Ludvig Aberg was perhaps too far away to be able to tell who the noise was for. But even at just 24 years old, Aberg is no stranger to big moments. This might be the Swede’s first major championship appearance, but he already has four professional wins and a Ryder Cup under his belt, and he has looked and played like someone who has spent ample time around Augusta.

“I think about it all the time. I’m OK thinking about it,” Aberg said Saturday of the enormity of the moment as he sits 3 shots out of the lead. “I don’t think you should shy away from it. I don’t think you should try to push it away. I try to embrace it, and I try to be OK with all that comes with it.”

It helps that although Aberg was born in Eslöv, he was nurtured by windy days in West Texas, where he attended Texas Tech. It all positioned him to be one of the game’s next stars and potentially only the third player ever to win a major in his first start. Any nerves that might arise will be embraced.

SCHEFFLER WOULD BE the first one to say that such a task is easier said than done.

In 2022, Scheffler’s Masters win was punctuated by him admitting he cried “like a baby” the Sunday morning of the tournament because he was “stressed out.”

A lot has changed since then, and Scheffler said he is more prepared to deal with it all, which doesn’t bode well for those who will chase him. Neither did what he did on 18 on Saturday.

By the time Scheffler got to the final hole, he was coming off a bogey and was sharing the lead with Morikawa at 6-under. It was only fitting then that Scheffler elicited one more roar from the patrons, fitting that he left his competitors with one last reminder of his superiority going into Sunday. After flagging his approach, the 8-foot birdie putt was good the whole way in, giving Scheffler the solo, 54-hole lead in a tournament for the 11th time in his career — the most of any player since 2019. So far, he is 4-for-10 in converting those leads into victories.

“This is a position I’m very familiar with,” Scheffler said. “It’s nice to have that experience; but going into tomorrow, that’s all it is.”

The inevitability of Scheffler will loom over Augusta on Sunday. But for Morikawa, Homa, Aberg and DeChambeau, the daunting task ahead only makes the opportunity in front of them one any true competitor would cherish: Securing their own Masters’ greatness is going to require chasing down the best player in the world. They wouldn’t have it any other way.

“Scottie is the No. 1 player in the world for a reason,” Morikawa said. “But at the end of the day, it doesn’t scare me.”