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Scheffler reigns while McIlroy unravels: Five things we learned from the 2024 Masters

Scottie Scheffler established himself as a force in the sport but Rory McIlroy appears no further on with a Masters plan

Scheffler a rare favourite to win at Augusta

A Green jacket, two PGA Tour wins and not a single round over par sums up the brilliance of Scottie Scheffler this year, who underlined his greatness with his statement victory at Augusta. Everyone tipped Scheffler this week for many reasons, he was close to the top of every metric you would pick for a Masters winner, except one — surprisingly, he was the first outright betting favourite to win the Masters in 19 years.

The American also won while being ranked world number one, as he did in 2022, but is only one of five players in history to win while top-ranked — the others, Ian Woosnam (1991), Fred Couples (1992), Tiger Woods (2001, 2002) and Dustin Johnson (2020). But in 2022, despite being number one Scheffler was only tied third favourite with bookmakers, behind Jon Rahm and Justin Thomas. The previous betting favourite to win was Tiger Woods in 2005, who was actually ranked number two in the golf rankings behind Vijay Singh at the time.

McIlroy’s preparation change makes no notable impact

It appears there is no “right” way to prepare for winning the Masters. In 2022, Scheffler woke up Sunday morning and cried with his wife Meredith, who was with him all week, because of the pressure. He still won by three shots. This year, it was his first Major that his heavily pregnant wife has missed. Scheffler spoke of having to make his own breakfast (shock, horror), but it made no difference to the overall result as the American won his second Masters.

Rory McIlroy has tried every different approach he can during the week of Augusta to bring out his best golf, and in the case of the past two years, polar opposites. Last year he arrived early with his family, played the course almost every day (and well) in the build-up, played in the par 3 contest before shooting 72-77 to miss the cut. This year, he played a PGA Tour tournament in Texas beforehand and was the last man to register on Tuesday, limited practice, kept his wife and child at home, and skipped the par 3 contest. The result? A 71-77 — one shot better — making the cut but playing himself out of contention to win.

Hole 11 on Friday encapsulates why McIlroy can’t win the Masters

There is no easy solution for McIlroy to turn around his fortunes at the Masters, as he makes too many mental errors at Augusta year after year. His double bogey on 11 on Friday is a prime example. With the wind howling, the Northern Irish man followed up a good drive with an iron straight left into the water, the one place he could not hit it. Playing partner Scheffler showed what you should do, hitting it safely right of the green and getting up and down for par. Already, McIlroy’s chances of winning the tournament were over. With so much scar tissue built up, the other three Majors provide a better chance of ending his 10-year Major drought, starting with Valhalla at the PGA Championship, where he won in 2014. The other Majors at least go to a different venue every year, instead of coming to Augusta each April to be reminded of his past failings.

Aberg a serious Major contender

One player who has no scar tissue at Augusta, or any Major course for that matter, is Ludvig Aberg. The Swede finished second in his first Major start and looked the part in shooting 69 on the final day to finish second by two shots. The long- and straight-hitting 24-year-old will be disappointed by the 11th hole when he pulled an iron into the water when near the lead, but other than that looked faultless, relaxed and played with a smile on his face. Aberg only turned professional in the summer and has already won the DP World and PGA Tours and played in a Ryder Cup. Up to seventh in the world rankings, expect him to contend with Scheffler at the rest of the majors this season.

Firm, windy conditions make for ball-strikers’ paradise

It was a windy four days at Augusta which meant only eight players were under par for the week. The last time so few players were under par at the Masters was when Danny Willett won in 2016. After torrential rain on Thursday, sunny conditions followed, and combined with the wind, dried up the course so Augusta played its very best, a compelling watch for the golf purist. A quick look at the top of the leaderboard and only the best of ball-strikers survived, an ideal set-up for identifying the best player — and it did in Scheffler.

Friday evening’s round was particularly difficult, with gales blowing sand out of the bunkers. It was Scheffler’s worst round of the week in scoring, but in some ways his most important and he crafted a 72 when players around him were dropping like flies. His famous iron play was only average this week but his course management was excellent and his chipping was world class. His 11-under-par total was 20 shots better than Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm, a masterclass in some of Augusta’s most difficult conditions.

David Gorman

David Gorman

David Gorman is a sports journalist with The Irish Times