By TIM DAHLBERG, AP Sports Journalist
AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) — The weekend couldn’t come soon enough for the Masters players, who really had only two choices as the sun began to set on Augusta National and the reality of their situation became Claire.
They might watch Scottie Scheffler roll in birdie putts and wonder why more of them aren’t getting in too.
Or they could study the weather and hope the wind howls through the tall Georgia pines.
Tiger Woods did not need to announce which group he is in.
“It’s going to be windy. It’s going to be cool,” Woods said. “I think this will be the Masters that the Masters committee has been looking forward to for a number of years. We didn’t have it that way.
We haven’t had a leader like Scheffler in a while either. He has a five-shot lead that seemed incredibly easy to create and, perhaps more importantly, he has history on his side.
Just five times before in Masters history, a player had a five-shot lead going into the weekend. The last four times the player has won, most recently in 2015 when Jordan Spieth picked up a green jacket.
And all Scheffler needs to do is play the same kind of competitive golf he’s been playing all year.
“As long as I’m committed to everything, everything should be fine,” the Texan said. “The rest is really not up to me.”
That kind of calm attitude has made this year a breakthrough for Scheffler, who suddenly finds himself the No. 1 player in the world. After his first victory in February in Phoenix, he added two more championships to his collection, including two weeks ago at Match Play in San Antonio.
For those who score the points at home, it’s three wins in five tournaments.
It was good, and it was important. They paid big money and probably already made Scheffler player of the year.
But these are the Masters. The winner receives a green jacket and all that goes with it.
The pressure of the weekend can be suffocating. What seemed feasible on Friday may not be on Sunday.
Oh, and then there’s Woods, hiding nine shots back but still holding out hope of a fight. And, really, who’s going to count him after all he’s already overcome?
“I have a chance before the weekend,” Woods said. “I hope I have one of those light bulb moments and turn it on at the weekend and do it. You’ve seen guys do it with a chance to get into the back nine. “If you’re in the five or six before the back nine, anything can happen. I need to get there. That’s the key. I have to get on with it.”
It may just be wishful thinking for Woods, no matter how many green jackets he’s already won (5) or how familiar he is with every blade of grass on the golf course he loves the most.
But a guy has to have something. And he’s not the only one with hope.
“He’s clearly in control right now based on the last two months, so I’m not too surprised,” said Justin Thomas, who matched Scheffler’s 67 but still had seven shots back. “But yeah, I’d appreciate it if he stopped going too far.”
If there’s anything that can rattle Scheffler — and with three wins in his last five starts, it’s hard to fathom what that might be — there are three former champions who are within six shots of him.
This includes last year’s winner Hideki Matsuyama and 2011 winner Charl Schwartzel. Former world No. 1 and 2020 winner Dustin Johnson is looming on the horizon.
That’s a lot of golf firepower and Augusta National is a golf course. Strange things can happen on a weekend when the wind is blowing, especially if the greens dry out more and shots become much more difficult.
Scheffler is only on his third master’s degree, so he’s not one to judge history. Until February, he hadn’t even won a tournament on the PGA Tour.
A few early birdies from Woods, a few big roars echoing across the landscape can damage a player’s psyche.
Also, as tradition dictates, nothing ever starts at the Masters until the back nine on Sunday.
“If you’re under five or six on that back nine before Sunday, you have a chance,” Woods said. “So, I just have to make it happen.”
A daunting task, sure, but what does Woods have to lose?
Remember, he wasn’t supposed to be here anyway.
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