The Masters seemed to be heading for a drama-free Sunday. World No. 1 player Scottie Scheffler looked set to run off the pitch. But a few stumbles at the end might make Sunday at Augusta National a bit more interesting.
So we’ve assembled our experts to assess whether Scheffler can be caught. Also, after a tough third round, we check in on Tiger Woods and what to expect from another walk and limp around the square on Sunday.
Can anyone catch Scottie Scheffler?
Mark Schlabach: Probably not. Watch his second shot on Saturday 18, after having to take a drop for an unplayable lie. Scheffler has never won a major championship, but he’s fearless and playing better than everyone right now. He was a little shaky at the end of the second nine on Saturday, but he still came away with a 3-stroke lead. I think Scheffler is playing too well to waste it. There’s going to be a ton of pressure on him in the second nine on Sunday. The Texan has been on a nearly two-month warm-up that few golfers have ever experienced, and it will likely culminate with him winning his first major and a green jacket.
Michael Collins: Nope. Too many things have to go wrong for him and too many have to go right for others to catch him. It wouldn’t be enough for Scottie to make mistakes, someone would also have to play almost perfectly. No one is going.
Nick Pietruszkiewicz: When he left the 13th green, I would have said there was no chance. When he bogeyed at No. 14, I still would have said probably not. But the bogey at the par-5 15th and that of the last make this thing interesting. It is no longer a Sunday consecration. Will he still win? I still think so, but it wasn’t a foregone conclusion, it looked like it was when he pulled away from Amen Corner on Saturday.
Tom VanHaaren: Scheffler is the fifth world No. 1-ranked player to hold the 54-hole lead at the Masters. Greg Norman is the only player in this stat who didn’t win, when Norman lost a 6-shot lead in 1996. Scheffler faltered a bit on the back nine on Saturday, but he doesn’t seem likely to lose considering how he’s been playing all week.
If so, who?
Schlabach: Again, I’d be surprised if anyone caught him, but I like Cameron Smith’s chances more than anyone else’s. He shot a 4-under 68 in rounds one and three. The Aussie is yet to win a major championship, but he did come out on top in the Players Championship, which is as important as any tournament (especially when it comes to the purse). They’ll be together in the final duo, and if Smith can put a few early birdies on his scorecard, he can at least put some pressure on Scheffler.
Pietruszkiewicz: Smith is 3 hits and Sungjae Im 5. So they are in the ball game. The one I still wouldn’t rule out is Shane Lowry. Seven shots in the hole is a lot, but crazy things happen around these games when the leaders look home on the back nine. So, yes, Lowry still has a chance. But the best option is Smith.
VanHaaren: Smith has shot 68 times this week, so it doesn’t seem completely out of the question that he can at least make it a challenge. The 74 he shot between those two rounds of 68 is what worries him, but given the difficulty of the course, he’s right. Smith now has nine career rounds in the 60s at Augusta, breaking a tie for most by any player in the last five Masters. So if there’s anyone Scheffler doesn’t want to go after, it’s probably Smith.
In which hole does Scheffler have to survive to afford a green jacket?
Schlabach: Are these the first holes? Scheffler bogeyed Nos. 1 and 3 in round two on Friday. If he stumbles early and Smith is able to post red numbers, things could get interesting. But Scheffler is so good around the green and his putter has been hot, so I’d be surprised if he doesn’t close the deal.
Collins: Nos. 11 and 12. Cross two-thirds of Amen Corner on par or better and they can start sewing a new green jacket.
Pietruszkiewicz: It’s 12. It’s still 12. Find dry land. If the first goes into Rae’s Creek, there’s no guarantee that the next — and the next — won’t follow.
VanHaaren: I agree with Mark that it probably goes through the first holes, but it also probably depends on how far he is on the back nine. He’s played 14th at 1 over and 18th at 1 over this week, so if he’s close to 14 or 18, maybe that comes to mind later.
What do you expect from Tiger Woods’ last lap at this Masters?
Schlabach: Tiger didn’t look too good after the third round. He admitted his back was tight in cold conditions and seemed to limp much more pronounced after playing 18 on Saturday. I don’t think he will retire. I think he has too much pride and is too competitive not to finish the tournament. I also think he will be very motivated to right the ship after a 6 of 78 on Saturday, his worst score in 93 career innings at Augusta National. He drove the ball well and was quite good with his irons. It was just that his putting was atrocious. I think he will be better on Sunday.
Collins: I expect Tiger to shoot around 75. I can’t imagine the exhaustion he must be feeling. I say that because you can’t create adrenaline. Every day he had to deal with an accident that he could not prepare for. Sunday will be about finding out how far he is from the final strength he will need to win again.
Pietruszkiewicz: Survival. Just spend the day. The pain really showed up until Saturday. So with the weather expected to warm up, he should enjoy a drive around Augusta National and revel in the accomplishment and hard work that has taken him from where he was 14 months ago to where it will be Sunday afternoon.
VanHaaren: I have to imagine this whole week catching up with him if it hasn’t already caught up with him. I didn’t really know what to expect coming in considering he’s 46, has had multiple injuries and surgeries, and it’s Augusta with hills everywhere. I admit I was a little optimistic after his 71 in the first round, but the scores have steadily increased since then. I know he’s a competitor, but when the body slows down, it slows down.
Which player was the biggest surprise this week?
Schlabach: It must be former champions Danny Willett or Charl Schwartzel, right? Willett had missed the cut at the Masters in four of his last five starts. He hasn’t finished in the top 20 on tour since tied for 18th at the RBC Classic in March 2021. But he’s eighth after 54 holes. Schwartzel is ranked No. 172 in the world and has missed the cut seven times in nine starts this season. He’s tied for fourth, but probably won’t be a big factor on Sunday. Yet their performances this week were completely unexpected.
Collins: Schwartzel. This man has missed his last six cuts in a row! There are perhaps many golfers who have used the term “I’m close”. But if Charl used it, the answer would have been, “To what?” Friday’s car?
Pietruszkiewicz: I hate to agree, especially on principle, but Schwartzel had no business in the final group on Saturday given the way he played in the months and weeks leading up to this. And he slammed it across the galaxy on Saturday, but still got a reasonable score and stays in the mix — sort of.
VanHaaren: I agree on Schwartzel. I didn’t see that coming. Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised anymore, but I was also surprised by Cam Smith. It continues to top the charts and hasn’t faltered.
Who was the biggest disappointment?
Schlabach: Take your pick: Brooks Koepka, Jordan Spieth, Xander Schauffele or Bryson DeChambeau. They all missed the cut. At least DeChambeau is injured. Spieth is probably the biggest concern as his game looks awry again. The 12th hole of Augusta National still haunts him.
Collins: Koepka. For a guy who wasn’t injured, he certainly played like someone who was.
Pietruszkiewicz: Rory McIlroy. Sure, he could come out and shoot 67 or better on Sunday and work his way into the top 5, but he was never a factor in this tournament. And it seems like it keeps happening here. Maybe the place is in his head and will never leave. But it’s still amazing that he keeps coming here and can’t run.
VanHaaren: I know DeChambeau hasn’t played much, but he was beaten by 63-year-old Larry Mize this week. I’ll give DeChambeau some slack if he’s still struggling with his injury, though. I was also surprised by Koepka’s performance. I thought this might be a week where we see him break through again at a major. He’s finished in the top-10 four times in 2021 in the majors and now he’s missed the cut six times this season.