Scottie Scheffler has heartbreaking finish to incredible season
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Written by Sean Martin @PGATOURSMartin
ATLANTA – It seemed like Sunday at the TOUR Championship would provide a fitting ending to a stellar season, a four-hour coronation for the year’s top player.
Instead, it was the scene of a record-tying collapse.
Scottie Scheffler, winner of four events in 2022 and the FedExCup leader for most of the season, seemed to put the TOUR Championship away after returning to East Lake on Sunday morning to complete his weather-delayed third round. He birdied four of the six holes he played to take a six-shot lead into the final 18 holes of the season.
Only seven players before him had lost so large a lead with 18 holes to play in a PGA TOUR event. Unfortunately, Scheffler added his name to that list instead of the roster of FedExCup champions.
He struggled to trust his reads on the greens, to find fairways and caught enough bad breaks to shoot 73 and finish one shot behind Rory McIlroy, who became the first three-time winner of the FedExCup.
Scheffler’s 73 matched the highest score Sunday at East Lake. Only three rounds this week were higher.
Scheffler has led the FedExCup since March, except for the week after Will Zalatoris won the first event of the FedExCup Playoffs. Scheffler regained the top spot in the standings with his T3 finish at last week’s BMW Championship, and thus started the TOUR Championship at 10 under par and with a two-shot lead over No. 2 Patrick Cantlay.
McIlroy began the week six back – and was nine back after hitting his opening tee shot out of bounds – but his 72-hole score of 263 was the lowest in the field this week.
Scheffler started the week with three rounds of 66 or lower and his 54-hole score of 197 matched McIlroy for the lowest through three rounds. But he made just one birdie Sunday.
“I just wasn’t hitting it very good at all,” he said. “I struck the ball really nicely all week. I missed a few putts I should have made early and got out of rhythm. I fought really hard. I just couldn’t get the ball in play.”
Scheffler finished the season with four wins, including the Masters, and sits atop the Official World Golf Ranking. The TOUR Championship was his ninth top-3 finish, and 11th top-10, in 25 starts this season. He is the clear favorite to win the TOUR’s Player of the Year Award. One last title eluded him, however.
“It would have been fitting for him to end his breakout season with a FedExCup title,” said McIlroy, who played along Scheffler in Sunday’s final group. “He deserves this maybe more than I deserve it. He played an unbelievable season. He didn't have his best stuff today, and I played well and took advantage of that. … You don't really know what to say on the 18th green because he's had such a great year, but he'll be back, and he's a great player, and I told him this certainly isn't the last time that we're going to have these battles on the golf course.”
Scheffler’s six-shot lead was gone in seven holes. Scheffler made three bogeys and McIlroy birdied Nos. 4-7. Scheffler regained his lead with a kick-in birdie at the eighth hole. He made nine pars and a bogey the rest of the way, hanging with McIlroy with some grinding pars after struggling off the tee.
“I started grinding it out,” he said. “I just wasn’t able to hit the shots in the end.”
McIlroy made a 6-foot birdie putt on 12 to tie Scheffler again at 21 under par (Scheffler pumped his fist after making a 12-foot par putt of his own). McIlroy bogeyed the 14th but made a 30-footer for birdie on 15. He turned to the three-story grandstand and yelled, “Come on!” The reaction was reminiscent to when he holed a wedge on East Lake’s 16th hole en route to his first FedExCup title.
Despite blading his approach from a fairway bunker well over the 16th green, McIlroy took his first lead of the week on that hole. His flop shot from behind the green looked like it would roll well past the hole, but it struck the flagstick square on and stopped 7 feet away. Scheffler hit his drive behind a tree and his punch shot found a greenside bunker. He blasted out to 9 feet, but his par putt hit a bump and McIlroy’s went in the hole.
Both players missed birdie putts on 17 – 20 feet for McIlroy and 9 feet for Scheffler – and they both parred the par-5 18th. With little sand in the bunker, Scheffler caught his greenside bunker shot thin and it rolled through the green. He got up-and-down for par to remain in a tie for second.
“I wanted to win the season-long title. I've had a really great year and I wanted to finish it off with a win here, and unfortunately I wasn't able to do that,” Scheffler said. “But at the end of the day, … I'm just so thankful to be out here.”
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.