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Can Scottie Scheffler be stopped? World’s No. 1 player takes five-shot lead at Masters

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Can Scottie Scheffler be stopped? World’s No. 1 player takes five-shot lead at Masters

World’s No. 1 player takes five-shot lead at Masters’ halfway point

    Written by Sean Martin @PGATOURSMartin

    AUGUSTA, Ga. – Combine the top player in the world with invaluable, first-hand lessons on how to navigate the intricacies of Augusta National, and you may have the recipe for a runaway victory.

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    The stage is set for a potential coronation for Scottie Scheffler, who in his debut as the No. 1 player in the world is confirming that no one in golf is on his level right now. Success in the game is fleeting, so it’s important to capitalize on the hot streaks, and Scheffler may be riding one to his first major championship.

    He is five shots ahead at the halfway point of the Masters, tying the tournament’s record for largest 36-hole lead. Four of the previous five to amass such an advantage after the first two rounds have gone on to win. Can Scheffler join them?

    That is now the biggest question in a tournament that has been dominated by the comeback of Tiger Woods.

    At 8-under 136, Scheffler is five shots ahead of the four players tied for second: past Masters champions Hideki Matsuyama (2021) and Charl Schwartzel (2011), former Open Championship winner Shane Lowry and first-round leader Sungjae Im.

    Standing at 2-under, six shots back: 2020 Masters champion Dustin Johnson, reigning THE PLAYERS champ Cameron Smith, Kevin Na and Masters first-timer Harold Varner III.

    Scheffler’s focus isn’t on the names behind him, however. It’s on pressing ahead.

    “Once I saw that I took the lead at one point today,” Scheffler said, “… my first thought was to just keep trying to build it, just because I feel like I'm playing well.”

    No one has been playing better over the past two months. He arrived at the Masters having won three of his last five starts, becoming the first player in a quarter century to pick up his first three TOUR wins in such short order. He’s been victorious in both stroke play and match play and across the continent, conquering a variety of courses and setups. Augusta National, the inland links designed by Alister MacKenzie, offers a unique challenge, however. Experience has added importance on a course where the dramatic slopes and swales put an increased emphasis on proper placement of the ball. Scheffler, playing his third Masters, is proving to be a quick learner.

    He finished in the top 20 in his previous two Masters starts, but more importantly he played alongside two of the best performers at this event in the modern era. He played with Woods in the final round of the 2020 Masters – Woods’ last official start before this week – shooting 71 to Woods’ eventful 76, where a 10 on Augusta National’s 12th hole was followed with five birdies on the final six holes. Scheffler played alongside Phil Mickelson in the first two rounds of last year’s Masters.

    “I've had some really good experience just being able to watch those guys around this place,” Scheffler said. This is Scheffler’s first Masters, as well, with Ted Scott on the bag. Scott caddied for both of Bubba Watson’s Masters wins, and his arrival on Scheffler’s bag last fall has coincided with Scheffler’s precipitous rise from promising prospect to untouchable talent. Scheffler was 17th in the world when Scott debuted as his caddie. Scheffler also paired with Watson at last year’s Zurich Classic of New Orleans.

    “Bubba Watson is one of my favorite guys to watch play golf because he seemingly does whatever he wants with the ball, and Tiger is the same way. They just hit all kinds of shots. That part for me fun,” said Scheffler, who learned to work the ball while recovering from too many wayward drivers during his college career. That skill is an asset at Augusta National.

    Scheffler followed Thursday’s 69 with a 67 that was the low round on a difficult day. Inconsistent breezes and cold temperatures befuddled the players, as the average score was 74.6. After a birdie and two bogeys on his first three holes, Scheffler made six birdies and was bogey-free for the rest of his second round.

    “The front nine was such a grind,” Scheffler said. “The wind was crazy.”

    Similar conditions are expected this weekend, which may make it harder for Scheffler’s pursuers to mount a charge. The forecast, and history, could be on Scheffler’s side.

    The lone player not to win the Masters after taking a five-shot lead at the halfway point was Harry “Light Horse” Cooper, arguably the best player to never win a major. He won 30 times on the PGA TOUR, but one of golf’s modern Grand Slam events wasn’t one of them (he did win the Western Open when it was one of golf’s top events, however).

    For those who did go on to win, it wasn’t always easy. Raymond Floyd (1976) and Jordan Spieth (2015) amassed that large an advantage en route to big wins and record-tying 72-hole scores. But Herman Keiser and Jack Nicklaus both barely eked out wins after taking those large leads. Keiser didn’t earn his unexpected win in the 1946 Masters until Ben Hogan, who was still seeking his first major, three-putted from 12 feet on the 72nd hole. Nicklaus finished one ahead of Tom Weiskopf and Johnny Miller in one of the greatest duels in this tournament’s history. A 40-foot birdie putt on the 70th hole proved to be the difference for Nicklaus, who won by one.

    While his impressive play left many scrambling to thumb through the record books to put such a performance in perspective, Scheffler’s biggest asset may be the fact that he doesn’t overthink things. His close friend and housemate this week, Sam Burns, calls Scheffler “goofy” and said that, though he’s competitive, he isn’t one to take life too seriously. The Scheffler and Burns families have spent their downtime during one of golf’s most stressful weeks playing board games.

    “I've prepared for a long time to be in moments like this and to win golf tournaments,” Scheffler said. “I've done all the preparation I can do. And if I win this golf tournament, then great; and if I don't, that's okay, too, because I did everything I could and I'm prepared and the rest isn't up to me.”

    Sean Martin manages PGATOUR.COM’s staff of writers as the Lead, Editorial. He covered all levels of competitive golf at Golfweek Magazine for seven years, including tournaments on four continents, before coming to the PGA TOUR in 2013. Follow Sean Martin on Twitter.

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