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AUGUSTA, Ga. — Scottie Scheffler’s job is to shoot good scores, not deliver content. Scheffler did his job so efficiently for most of the third round that Masters Saturday started to feel a little, well, boring. A tidy 33 front-nine pushed Scheffler to 11 under, dashing the hopes of all but a few potential suitors on a cold, windy day. But a Cam Smith play continued to birdie, and after his sixth of the day, on the 15th hole, he had cut Scheffler’s six-shot lead in half. The frosty fans started giggling. Scheffler retaliated with a birdie on the 13th (after a cautious layup) and when Smith quickly missed a four-footer for par on the 16th hole, just like that, the lead was back to a commanding five shots.
But as Scheffler would discover, there is no such thing as pressure from the masters. Loose iron shots and hesitant putts on the 14th and 15th led to bogeys, eroding both his lead and his air of inevitability. A jammed approach shot on 17 gave Scheffler a birdie and a shot of confidence, when he desperately needed it. A scrambling bogey on the last hole gave him a 1-under 71, a darn good score on a day when only eight other of the 52 players who made the cut went under par. It is 9 cents; his lead over Smith is reduced to three strokes, with Sungjae Im hiding five behind.
Sunday’s forecast calls for significantly warmer temperatures and a little less wind. After the brutal third round, which featured a series of ominous pin positions, expect the green jackets to offer a friendlier setup that favors pyrotechnics. (The 15-par-5 tees better be on the front of the new box or we riot.) The average winning score over the past decade has been 11.7 under, but few of these Masters have experienced an extreme weather day like this. third round. Let’s say Scheffler falters a bit more and 9 under does. Here are the top 10 results for what has already been an intriguing Masters.
Charl Schwartzel shoots 65 to win. The 2011 champion had the hit of the day in the third round, sinking a 7-for-10 iron for an eagle that evoked his Sunday charge 11 years earlier. Schwartzel, 37, arrived at Augusta National in an almighty slump: six consecutive missed cuts and languishing last among 209 players in total strokes won. It would be an all-time resurrection if he could summon more Sunday magic, but his shaky third-round finish (four bogeys over the last eight holes) doesn’t bode well.
Corey Conners shoots 64 to win. The native Canuck kicked off his career by winning a week where he qualified on Monday – what’s not to love about that?
Cam Smith shoots 69 to win. Next to Scheffler, Smith (above) has been the hottest player in the world this season. With top 10s in three of his last four Masters appearances, including a second-place finish in 2020, this short-game savant has clearly found the sweet spot at Augusta National. His 4-under 68 in the third round was the best score by two shots. Given his glorious mule and funny sense of humor, he would be a very popular winner.
Sungjae Im shoots 67 to win. Im, 24, became the first South Korean to lead after any round of Masters thanks to a stunning opening 67. A second-round 74 hurt his cause, but he caught fire on the last 11 holes Saturday, playing them in 5 under. Hideki Matsuyama’s victory last year resonated in the golf world; an Im triumph would have at least as much impact, given his youth and likeability.
Shane Lowry shoots 65 to win. The jovial Irishman was the toast of the golfing world when he won the 2019 Open Championship on his home island, but wins are a bit rare for such a prodigious talent: only five on both the PGA and the tours Europeans. That said, 35-year-old Lowry has already conquered the Royal Portrush, one of the greatest courses in the world. If he adds Augusta National to the roster, Lowry will establish himself as a player of historical significance.
Dustin Johnson shoots 62 to win. DJ was in the thick of the action on Saturday until he bogeyed six of his final 14 holes. With 25 wins, he’s already a Hall of Fame lock, but two career majors doesn’t seem like enough. An epic comeback on Sunday for a second green jacket would cement Johnson’s legacy.
Justin Thomas shoots 64 to win. Birdies on the first two holes of round three pushed JT to 3 under, but he made a bunch of mistakes on the way home and had to fight for a 72. Thomas has underperformed in the majors since his breakthrough at the 2017 PGA Championship, and Augusta National seems to be getting into his head. A Magical Sunday would change all that and bring Thomas back to the front row of the game.
Scottie Scheffler shoots 72 to win. The kid showed plenty of heart throughout the third round, including a laser-like approach shot from around 250 yards out and delicate back-and-forths to save a crucial bogey on the final hole after driving into a bush and taking a penalty fall. With three wins in less than two months – his first three career wins – Scheffler has risen to the top of the world rankings. Some observers think the high pole is too early for the 25-year-old. If he does on Masters Sunday, there’s only one takeaway: A star is born.
Rory McIlroy shoots 62 to win. After opening 73-73-71, McIlroy is in first place for his traditional back-door top 10. But if he ever wants to exorcise his demons at Augusta National, he’ll likely take this very scenario: start far from the lead, coast his way to an outrageously low score (and course record), and win from the clubhouse.
Tiger Woods shoots 56 to win. Hey, we can dream, can’t we?