The Masters: Scottie Scheffler races into five-shot…


STANDINGS -8 Scheffler; -3 Schwartzel, Im, Lowry, Matsuyama; -2 Varner III, D. Johnson, Na, Smith. 
SELECTED OTHERS -1 Willett, Morikawa, Niemann, Thomas; +1 Woods; +2 MacIntyre, Rahm, McIlroy.

World No.1 Scottie Scheffler produced a performance worthy of his ranking as he took the initiative at the Masters.

The 25-year-old – who had not won on tour six weeks ago, but now has three wins in his last five starts – produced an imperious display at Augusta to go five clear of the chasing pack at the halfway mark… the largest 36-hole lead in tournament history.

Not since Ian Woosnam in 1991 has a golfer played his first event as world No.1 at the Masters, and few would bet against Scheffler emulating the Welshman’s victory here.

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Without him, the entire weekend field would have been separated by just seven shots, with a few surprise names in the mix.

Past champions who have fallen on hard times featured heavily, with Charl Schwartzel – ranked 209th out of 209 for strokes gained on the PGA Tour this year – lying second despite six missed cuts in a row. So too Danny Willett, who fell away slightly but is still well-placed in a tie for tenth.

First-round leader Sungjae Im dropped back slightly, joining Schwartzel on three-under. They were joined by Shane Lowry, the low score of the day with a 68.

Defending champion Hideki Matsuyama produced a performance belying his recent injury troubles, putting himself firmly in the mix. Joaquin Niemann, often overshadowed by the circus surrounding playing partner Tiger Woods, flew along under the radar, positioning himself nicely.

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Some big names fell away. Rory McIlroy struggled, Jordan Spieth paid the price for some big errors and little was seen of Jon Rahm. Spieth, Brooks Koepka, Xander Schauffele and Bryson DeChambeau were among a host of big names heading home before the weekend.

Amid the chaos there were moments to enjoy, too.

Stewart Cink’s hole-in-one at 16 was part of a valiant late attempt to make the cut, while Lowry’s  chip-in at the tenth was a thing of beauty. 

But the day belonged to Scheffler, whose magnificent performance put him in the driving seat to claim his maiden major title.

“I feel like my game is in a good spot,” he said afterwards. “I’ve done a good job managing my way around the golf course the last two days, and I’ve made some really nice up and downs and key putts that have kept my rounds going. I’ve kept my cards pretty clean for the most part, which is nice.”

Scheffler is now a combined 15-under in his ten Masters rounds.

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According to golf stats guru Justin Ray, only Jordan Spieth (-27) and Tony Finau (-18) have, since 1990, had a better score to par by this stage in their Masters careers.

“I feel like I’m playing well,” he added. “The goal going into tomorrow will be just to keep putting myself in good positions, execute shots, and as long as I’m committed to everything, everything should be fine. The rest really isn’t up to me.”

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