Scottie Scheffler and a tournament lost in the breaks

OLYMPIA FIELDS, Ill. — All that was left was a few holes, a few strokes, a hug from Ted Scott, a kiss for wife Meredith, a wave to the crowd, a trophy presentation, a press conference, a few laughs, a speech to the members of Olympia Fields Country Club, a long line of handshakes, and that would be it. Scottie Scheffler would have his seventh PGA Tour win in the books.

It was all just a matter of actually doing those things.

But then a 20-yard hit and run to the par-5 15th green stopped 13 feet short, leaving a birdie that Scheffler would miss on a hole he was supposed to sell. The 27-year-old, who can simultaneously appear incredibly gifted and incredibly vulnerable, slowed his walk. He later said of that chip shot: “It landed maybe a foot away from where I wanted it to be, and then the second bounce was what really got me. I thought I was going to jump it on the green, but it hit the poa annua and it kind of stopped.”

Walking off the 15th green, Scheffler looked dazed, so much so that he didn’t seem to notice what was cooking in front of him. On the 17th, Viktor Hovland, whose contention in this 2023 BMW Championship was thought to be long over, rolled in a bogey 9 for birdie — his sixth on the back nine at that point.

But Scheffler will regroup, for sure. The pin on the downhill par-3 16th sat hidden behind a front-right bunker. Undaunted, Scheffler went straight for it, looking down with his hands up.

Seeing it drop 6 feet from the stick, Scheffler ducked under his stick, showing the kind of Texas heat we rarely see from him. It was understandable. Scheffler is the best golf striker in the world. Is he the best player? This can be discussed. But impressive? No one else is in his orbit, which has probably made it all the more frustrating that he has played 12 tournaments, dating back to the Players Championship in March, since winning.

This day could end that frustration.

Then Scheffler missed a 6-foot birdie putt. “I started it online,” he said. “I just didn’t have the speed.”

Scottie Scheffler missed several birdies on the back nine Sunday. (Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

Scheffler ran the 17th, watching his legs. It was hard to tell if he was angry or outraged or both. The mood of the man does not confess feelings. He just keeps being Scottie Scheffler.

After a drive to the 17th fairway, Scheffler called a number, still in position to win. He glanced to his left as another cheer came from Hovland. With a birdie at 18, the 25-year-old shot a course-record 61 to move to 17-under for the tournament. He shot a 28 on the back nine and somehow now leads by one stroke.

Scheffler needed a birdie-birdie finish. Instead, he three-pointed from 26 feet on the 17th and spared everyone the drama. After playing the first 67 holes of the tournament at 16-under-par, he played the final five at 1-over.

So, once again, Scheffler didn’t win a tournament in which he was the best player by almost every measure available. Standing before reporters late Sunday afternoon, Scheffler elaborated on a sentiment that is incredibly familiar. He shrugged and said plainly, “I’m a little disappointed. I think that would be the way to describe it.”

Part of that is just the nature of the game. A good game is often not good enough in golf. A shot fell here, a shot fell there, an opponent made a historic round. It’s hard to win. Everyone’s favorite stat is Jack Nicklaus’ 19 runner-up finishes in majors.

But Scheffler, among today’s players, has become a phenomenon all his own. He has been the best ball-striker on the planet since the start of 2022, winning four times in six starts, including a surprise win at the Masters, a week so dominant that not even a bogey on the 18th was enough to sink him. But perhaps more should have been made of that finish. Three of the four shots Scheffler missed were from less than 5 feet.

Since then, well-documented green issues have locked Scheffler in some sort of debtor’s prison. In his 34 starts since that win at Augusta, Scheffler has posted 17 top 10s, including two wins and six runner-up finishes.

This would be an incredible game for anyone, but Scheffler is no one. He leads the PGA Tour this season in strokes gained off the tee, strokes gained approaching the green, strokes gained off the tee hitting the green, strokes gained total, percentage of greens hit in regulation, scoring average and season earnings.

But putting?

Scheffler is hitting -.239 on the green. If he was even an average player, could he easily have three? four; five? more wins in the last 16 months?

Instead, he has frustration and sounds like a man with more questions than answers. After the win, Hovland talked about trusting his reads and feeling his speed was off. He said of his layup, “I guess I just didn’t try to fight it. I just relied on my gut and my intuition and it worked this time.”

And what did Scheffler have to say?

“I felt like I was doubting myself a little bit at 16,” he said, “and then at 17 it was weird because I had a lot of those right-to-lefts today and it seemed like I was barely hitting them. Vacation.”

At this point, it’s hard to shake the feeling that Scheffler squandered (so to speak) what could have been an iconic summer in 2023. His impressive numbers are so good — Tiger-good, or as close to it we have seen. The average fan may not realize how good Scheffler is because he doesn’t hoist a trophy every other week. After next week’s Tour Championship, Scheffler’s season will be over and it will be hard not to ask, what if?

And, perhaps more immediately, what comes next? A different approach? Goal-point? A long player? Putt left-handed?

Or does it stay the course, see where it goes. The assumption is that Scheffler will be fine and win again soon enough because if you hit the ball closer to the pin than everyone else every week, wins come as a natural consequence.

And when they don’t? Well, the best player doesn’t always win.

He’s used to it.

(Top photo: Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

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