Xander Schauffele has been the called the most underrated player on the PGA Tour, among its greatest ball strikers, and a guy you want in your foxhole. But not a major champion.
Schauffele has a terrific championship record — eight top-10s in 15 major championship appearances — that includes leading the Masters on the back nine Sunday in 2019, the year Tiger Woods won his 15th major. But being among the best is not always the next best thing in golf.
It is becoming, as Schauffele said, “a big ball of scar tissue.”
The Masters loves drama, and Schauffele was the only player who came close to giving Hideki Matsuyama any competition Sunday at Augusta. Down seven shots on the 12th tee, Schauffele ran off four straight birdies to cut Matsuyama’s lead to two. Three of those birdies came close to being eagles. He was that dialed in.
Energized and intent on applying the pressure, Schauffele hit 8-iron on the par-3 16th, going right at the flag. He came up short, the ball bouncing and plunging into the water along with his hopes of winning.
“I was coming in hot. I was feeling good,” he said. “I was a little hyper-aggressive on 16.”
Schauffele’s approach from the drop area went long, and two putts later he walked off 16 with a triple-bogey 6. He was history.
“I gave him a little excitement,” Schauffele said of Matsuyama. “Unfortunately, I hit it in the drink.”
Some other takeaways from the 85th Masters:
▪ Hard to imagine how big a star Matsuyama is now in his sports-crazed homeland of Japan. When Daisuke Matsuzaka played for the Red Sox, Japanese journalists recorded his every move, and he couldn’t even throw a gyroball.
▪ It has been an incredible eight days for Japanese players – Tsubasa Kajitani, only 17, won the 2021 Augusta National Women’s Amateur in a playoff April 3.
▪ They say the Masters begins on the back nine on Sunday, but not this year. It began on the back nine on Saturday. After a weather delay, Matsuyama came home in 30 for a three-shot lead heading into Sunday.
▪ Unless you are Jack or Tiger, scrambling always has been an indicator of success at Augusta. Matsuyama was second, behind Kevin Na. Matsuyama said his best shot of the tournament was his tee ball on 18, but his most important might have been his pitch on the par-5 15th from behind the green. He went into the water with his approach, and brought the possibility of a big number into play. But he knocked his fourth shot to the collar on the top of the green and two-putted for a bogey 6, the best bogey of his career.
▪ It took Jordan Spieth 3½ years but he has found his game. He won a week ago at Texas, and despite a triple and a double during the week, finished T-3 at the Masters, three shots back.
▪ Will Zalatoris, the spindly 24-year-old from Wake Forest who finished second, does not have status on the PGA Tour. He finished T-6 at the 2020 US Open at Winged Foot and earned special temporary membership. To earn full status, he has to win this year. Which might not be a problem with the way he hits it.
▪ Mr. Major, Brooks Koepka, missed the cut (74-75). He’s recuperating from a knee procedure and probably shouldn’t have played, but the golf gods are a fickle lot. Koepka is 0 for the majors since he said winning them is easier than regular Tour events.
▪ Class acts: Spieth and Marc Leishman hung around to congratulate Matsuyama. And Phil Mickelson was among those cheering as Lee Elder, who broke the color barrier at the Masters, was honored Thursday morning.
▪ No way tournament officials wanted to see 20 under par win again, which Dustin Johnson shot in November. Johnson was never a factor. He doubled 18 for a 2-over-par 74 Thursday and checked out Friday with a 75.
▪ Sad to see Rory McIlroy, who has the best swing in golf, so confused. McIlroy acknowledged he has been chasing distance, and by definition, Bryson DeChambeau, and in the process, lost his feel. McIlroy even nailed his father on one wayward tee shot. He shot 76-74 and is not close to the player he was in February of 2020, when he was No. 1 in the world rankings.
▪ DeChambeau only had one round under par — a 67 on Friday that saved him for the weekend. For some reason or another, his maniacal calibrations and booming drives do not compute at Augusta.
Jim Hoban can be reached at email@example.com.