AUGUSTA, Ga. — The No. 1-ranked golfer in the world spent much of Friday atop the Masters leaderboard by five strokes and perhaps the most repeated question around here was … who the heck is Scottie Scheffler?
He’s the hottest player in the sport, a guy on an all-time burner of a run who after a blistering 67 here Friday has become the prohibitive betting favorite (+140 at BetMGM) to win a green jacket on Sunday (Shane Lowry is next at +1000).
The question — who the heck is Scottie Scheffler? — is a fair one, though. Just 54 days ago — the morning of Super Bowl Sunday — the 25-year-old Texan had never won a single PGA Tour event despite this being his third year on the circuit.
That day he beat Patrick Cantlay in a playoff at the Waste Management Open. Three weeks later he won the Arnold Palmer Invitational. Three weeks after that, he took home the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play title.
It took Tiger Woods 252 days after his first win to reach No. 1 in the world. Scheffler did it in 42.
Now he’s in command of this fabled tournament, dropping four back-nine birdies while in the final group. Under the gathering dusk, he putted out for par on 18 and received a nice cheer from a modest crowd.
“I played solid golf today,” Scheffler said. “Put myself in position.”
A fairly decent one. He leads the field by five.
He may be dominating, but he’s still more than a bit of a mystery to fans, especially the casual ones who don’t start paying attention to the season until the Masters. His post-round news conference featured just a smattering of reporters, fewer than two dozen.
Back at the WGC, he broke down in tears on the winning green while hugging his wife, Meredith Scudder. The win assured him the No. 1 ranking, which seemed unfathomable, even to him.
As a kid outside of Dallas, he dreamed of being a pro and winning tournaments, but “the rankings never really crossed my mind.”
He added, “I don’t feel like No. 1 in the world. I feel like the same guy I was four months ago, and I hope that doesn’t change.”
In some ways it hasn’t.
Scheffler is not a pure overnight sensation. He played at the University of Texas, then played well on the Tour prior to winning — including four top-10 finishes at major championships and two top-20s here at Augusta. He was a somewhat controversial captain’s pick for the U.S. Ryder Cup team (over Patrick Reed) but delivered big time, including beating Jon Rahm head to head.
But otherwise, his life has mostly not changed. He likes to play boardgames. He still hangs out with a lot of high school friends from Highland Park, none of whom make a big deal about him.
Back then, he severely sprained his left ankle a week before the state championship but went out and won anyway. “The way I [hurt] my ankle was not tough,” Scheffler said. He was running and stepped on an acorn, which made a sound like an ankle popping.
“My buddies will still make fun of me,” he said with a shake of his head.
As recently as late March he said he was still driving a 2012 Yukon with 180,000 miles that used to belong to his dad.
“It runs,” he told the Austin American-Statesman.
As for his recent prize money windfalls, which tally over $7 million this year, he told the paper he’s used that for “chips and queso.”
“Outside of the guys saying congrats,” Scheffler said this week, “my friends are still making fun of me. I’ve still got to do my chores at home, and nothing really changes.”
It’s one reason why Scheffler was able to arrive here under the radar. Most of the pre-tournament attention went to the return of Tiger Woods anyway, something Scheffler deemed “a good thing for all of us.”
Here’s the thing: Topping the golf rankings is one thing, the Masters leaderboard is another. The spotlight that is coming will be enormous, and Scheffler appears ready for it. He’s been waiting to get to this level since he first started playing. It’s not necessarily the end result, but the chance to fight for the end result.
“For me, I’ve prepared for a long time to be in moments like this and win golf tournaments,” Scheffler said, crediting his ability to trust his shots right now. “If I win this tournament, great, if I don’t, that’s OK, too, because I did what it took to be in position to win.”
From out of almost nowhere, he is in position. Two rounds down, two very long, lonely, pressurized rounds to go, but right now a man who as of mid-February was winless in 64 PGA starts is in control of this entire show.