AUGUSTA, Ga. – Sergio Garcia exhaled deeply as he stepped off Augusta National’s finishing hole on Friday afternoon.
“It just felt like I just came out of 10 rounds with Canelo,” he later said, referencing champion boxer Canelo Alvarez.
A cool wind whipped constantly, amplified by frequent gusts of 25-30 mph, throughout the latter portion of this second round at the 86th Masters. And it blew several notables both from contention and, in the cases of Jordan Spieth, Brooks Koepka and Bryson DeChambeau, out of the tournament.
But when it came to Scottie Scheffler, he was unbattered. When the dust settled after 36 holes around one of golf’s most hallowed grounds, Scheffler stood in the clearing, having fought his way to a stranglehold on the leaderboard and nearing a major knockout.
And it’s not even Saturday yet.
“I definitely I feel like I was in a fight today,” said Scheffler, whose 5-under 67 pushed him to 8 under, five strokes clear of the field. “I guess, you know, the only thing I would say to that is maybe I just performed a little bit better.”
No one in Masters history has led by more at the halfway mark, while five players have previously held such 36-hole leads.
Four of the five, including Spieth and Jack Nicklaus, went on to win. Harry Cooper, in 1936, finished second.
“I've prepared for a long time to be in moments like this and to win golf tournaments,” Scheffler said. “I couldn't ask for anything more after 36 holes. … But I'm still quite a long way to go. It's nice to build up a little bit of a lead, but I'm not really going to be thinking about it tonight or anything. You know, I've put myself in position to play well and to win this golf tournament; and going into tomorrow, I'm just going to approach it like I did today and just be committed to my shots and hope for the best.”
Two back entering his late-Friday tee time, Scheffler went bogey-birdie-bogey out of the gates before finding his groove with a few momentum-building par saves. He later rolled in an 8-footer at the par-4 seventh and backed that up with a stress-free birdie at the par-5 eighth.
“I thought even par was going to be a really good score,” Scheffler said. “Really, the only thing that went through my head before today's round was I just wanted to get off to a decent start. … In my opinion, the way the wind was blowing, if I was 1 over through five holes around this golf course – really even six where that pin was today – that's a pretty good start.”
On the second nine, Scheffler showcased an ability to hit any shot, even in blustery conditions. He smartly used the humps at No. 11 to avoid disaster and instead set up a straightforward up-and-down par – or, as Scheffler’s caddie, Ted Scott, said, “a nice birdie.” He judged the wind nicely on No. 12, knocking his tee ball to 12 feet and sinking the putt. He caught a mud ball and missed the 13th green 40 yards right, but recovered beautifully and converted the short birdie.
He didn’t even consider going at the flag at No. 15, playing to a long-right miss and carding yet another birdie on a par-5. Finally, he used the slope and drained a 5-foot birdie at the par-3 16th hole.
Scheffler nearly had an eighth birdie, too, at No. 18, threading the trees with his second from the pine straw before missing the 12-footer.
He bested the field scoring average (74.61) by more than seven shots.
“One of my goals coming into today with the way the wind was, Teddy and I talked about it, we are just going to try to play this golf course like Bernhard Langer does and just kind of plot your way around,” Scheffler said.
Methodical like Bernhard Langer, tough like Cal Ripken Jr.
As a standout for Highland Park High in Dallas, Scheffler won three consecutive state individual titles, equaling Spieth’s prep feat. Only Spieth didn’t win any of his on a bum ankle.
A week prior to his second win, Scheffler had sprained his left ankle playing basketball after stepping on, of all things, an acorn. With the foot flared out, he still won by three shots.
Scheffler’s feet, in more ways than one, are firmly planted on the ground these days. In boasting three wins in his past six starts, newly minted status as world No. 1 and the mindset that none of that really matters, Scheffler has proven himself steadfast.
This weekend at Augusta National, he can strengthen that persona while also showing that he looks good in green.