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With Mistakes at Amen Corner, Three Chasers Saw Their Masters Hopes Dashed

AUGUSTA, Ga. — The beginning of the end for the men who didn’t win the Masters came early.

Scottie Scheffler hit a massive drive at the 9th hole and had 102 yards to the pin. Near the green, a radio broadcaster wearing an antenna backpack stepped away from the gallery seats to give his report into the microphone. “Is there anyone in the world better than this guy from 102?” he asked in a thick Australian accent.

He was answered by a long, resounding roar as Scheffler dropped a wedge shot past the pin. Scheffler’s ball spun back and began trickling directly toward the hole as the fans’ screams got even louder. At the last second, the ball veered left and stopped two inches away. It was a kick-in birdie for Scheffler. That stroke didn’t win the Masters Tournament but that unmistakable roar, in the mold of the Tiger and Jack roars from days past, was the start of Scheffler’s morale-breaking campaign of five birdies in the last 10 holes.

It seems too cruel to call the also-rans “losers.” There are many ways to lose a Masters and on this day, Scheffler was simply too good. But the contenders all gifted Scheffler with critical mistakes that made it easier to win a second green jacket. Remarkably, all three pursuers made at least one double bogey on the last 10 holes. 

That’s how this affair went from a four-way tie for the lead between Scheffler, Max Homa, Ludvig Åberg and Collin Morikawa to a Scottie Scheffler coronation, starting with Scheffler’s heat-seeking wedge shot at the 9th.

What went wrong? It’s golf. It’s the Masters. Stuff happens.

Morikawa, the University of California alum who already has a PGA Championship title and a British Open win, played a solid front nine. He began the day one shot behind Scheffler and was paired with him. He was tied with Scheffler through 7 holes and was 1 under after a birdie at the par-5 8th. Then disaster struck at the 9th hole.

“Greed got the best of me,” Morikawa said.

His drive found the trees and the pine straw right of the fairway. His recovery attempt finished in the front bunker, a tough place because of the front pin position. Scheffler had just dropped a nugget within inches so Morikawa had to get up-and-down and it was going to take a Joe Finesse shot to get close for a par save. His bunker shot hit inches from the top of the bunker lip and rolled back near his feet. The next shot went 12 feet above the hole and he two-putted for a double bogey.

“You can’t miss it over there,” Morikawa said of his tee shot, “and you can’t leave it in the bunker.”

That was only part of the Morikawa Mistake Collection. Part II came at the 11th hole when he pulled his approach shot into the pond left of the green and made another double. That one put a stake in his chances for good, especially considering that Scheffler was about to birdie three of the last six holes.

“At 11, I just tried to hit too perfect of a shot,” Morikawa said. “It’s not like I was trying to press. I knew where I stood. Yeah, you just can’t do that. In the past, I haven’t don’t that but that’s kind of where my game is at.”

Morikawa has not been on a roll this season. His last three finishes were missed cut, 45th and 75th. A putter switch in mid-Masters seemed to ignite him but Sunday, like most of the week, he still couldn’t get birdie putts to drop.

“We put a lot of pieces of the puzzle together this week,” Morikawa said. “But after watching Scottie this week, I know what I have to do to close the gap on how impressive he’s playing.

“There were only a couple of holes out here that hurt me. With the game I have, if I just tighten a few things up, it wasn’t that far off. If I had two or three of those putts drops on the first seven holes today, it changes a lot of things. Who knows how the ending would have finished? You can’t make two doubles against someone who’s not making mistakes.”

A bogey at the 18th dropped Morikawa from solo third to a three-way tie with Homa and Tommy Fleetwood. But Morikawa is now stoked for the next three majors, starting with next month’s PGA Championship.

“I fully believe I still have it and I know I still have it,” he said, “I’ve just got to dig a little deeper and be strong. I made two errors and that cost me the tournament.”

Homa, playing in the next-to-last twosome with Åberg, was still on Scheffler’s trail until the 12th hole. There, he hit a 9-iron the drifted a little left and one-hopped into the underbrush on the hillside just above the bunker. He deemed the ball unplayable, took a drop and left his chip on the back fringe. It was a momentum-killing double bogey that dropped him three strokes behind. Homa didn’t make another birdie the rest of the way.

“I thought I handled myself great, I didn’t feel like I blinked,” said Homa, a former NCAA champion from the University of California and one of the American stars of last year’s Ryder Cup defeat. “I would have loved the ball on 12 not to go into a foot of ivy. But I hit a good shot and I did that all weekend. I just didn’t make any putts.”

Homa said his shot at the 12th started a few feet left of where he wanted and the wind wasn’t blowing the way he thought it was. Enter the ivy. “I wasn’t trying to be perfect, I was just trying to hit the left center of that green,” he said. “After that, you know Scottie is going to play well and you’re going to have to do something special, like chip in or make a long putt and I didn’t do that.”

Homa, a six-time PGA Tour winner, hasn’t been lighting it up this season of late, either. He tied for eighth at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and followed that with a 64th at the Players Championship at a 25th at the Texas Valero Open. He hasn’t won a major yet and he’s well aware of that, he said. This could be a springboard for him.

“This is bittersweet, I guess,” Homa said. “I feel like I learned. I feel like I took a big leap. The rhetoric on me, and from myself as well, is I have not performed in these majors and I performed for all four days this week. I didn’t throw a 65 in there and sneak in. I had to sleep on this every single day, this kind of monkey on my back. I don’t feel like I need to prove anything else to myself. I know I can play well in these things now. Winning is fickle. I know the way I played today is good enough to win.”

Åberg, the Swede who played college golf at Texas Tech and was playing in his first major championship, finished as runner-up. He made the same mistake Morikawa did, pulling his second shot into the water guarding the 11th green. That dropped him three shots back. 

“He had a long wait at 11, like four, five, six minutes,” said Peter Hanson, Åberg’s mentor, a fellow Swede and a former tour player. “It’s the toughest shot out there today. Maybe he was too aggressive. But he handled it well. He got up at 12 and hit it middle of the green. He stays so positive, it’s impressive. I slept on the lead here once and it’s tough. We all dream of having a chance here on the back nine on Sunday and he just came up short.”

There are a lot of ways to not win a Masters. These three men learned that the hard way Sunday.