Scottie Scheffler’s Tiger-like run shows depth of talent at top of PGA Tour

One of the first lessons learned from covering golf at its highest level: there are a lot of good players. Really, very good players.

Scottie Scheffler offers a tidy illustration. Just over two years ago, at the start of 2020, he was ranked 66th in the world rankings. Just over a year ago, at the start of 2021, it was No. 32. Just over two months ago, before the Phoenix Open, he was No. 15 — and still winless on the PGA Tour.

And watch it now.

Scheffler’s emphatic victory on Sunday at the Masters punctuated his rapid and remarkable rise to the rank of the undisputed No. 1 player on the planet. He embarked on a Tiger Woods-esque run, the kind of wild streaks – four wins in six starts – rarely seen on tour.

If one player was going to dominate the first few months of 2022 like this, Jon Rahm made the most sense. Or maybe Cal alum Collin Morikawa. Or Justin Thomas, who tends to reel off birdies in clusters.

Scheffler? Good player. Won a ton of junior national tournaments. Grew up in Dallas competing against Will Zalatoris, continuing the standard set by another standout in the area named Jordan Spieth (who is three years older than Scheffler and Zalatoris).

But Scheffler didn’t seem about to relent like that, turning Masters Sunday into a crowning glory. Rory McIlroy shot an electrifying 64 and it didn’t matter. Morikawa jumped up and it didn’t matter. Cameron Smith pushed Scheffler and it didn’t matter.

He just kept walking, oblivious to the story and the scene, pocketing the pars like precious currency. Scheffler might not have been part of the No. 1 conversation more than two months ago, but now the conversation is about him.

Scottie Scheffler hugs his caddy Ted Scott after winning the 86th Masters golf tournament Sunday, April 10, 2022 in Augusta, Ga. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Jae C. Hong / Associated Press

Other observations from watching Sunday’s final from the couch:

• In this age of the hard-hitting, tee shots regularly traveling 350 yards, the 12th hole at Augusta National remains a source of eternal cruelty.

No 12 is just 155 yards, but the green sits at an awkward angle, led by Rae’s Creek – and that plagued another Masters contender on Sunday. Smith trailed Scheffler by three shots when they got to No. 12, threw one into the water and finally made a triple bogey to ruin his chances.

Scheffler didn’t want any part of the creek. He played on the left, decreasing his chances of getting in trouble, and rushed to make the par. Intelligent man.

• Huge props to Woods for completing 72 holes, just over a year after nearly losing his right leg in a car accident. It’s a testament to his courage and penchant for Augusta National, where he is a five-time Masters champion.

Another takeaway from the past four days: Woods faces a huge challenge in the next phase of his career.

He will play sporadically, choosing the tournaments he prefers (mainly the big championships) and the courses that suit his game. This makes perfect sense at his age (46) and given his physical limitations, but he is a hard way to get back to the argument.

Woods shot 78-78 on the weekend at Augusta, blending into the pack after a strong start. He had just one birdie on Sunday. His swing looked stiff and his putt erratic, completely understandable when he hadn’t started on the PGA Tour in almost 17 months.

Again, it’s remarkable that Woods found the strength to play four rounds, especially on such a steep course. But it’s also unrealistic to expect him to win again playing so infrequently.

To his credit, Woods seems to appreciate the chance to play again, period. He chatted with Rahm throughout their round on Sunday, a startling sight considering Woods’ usual intensity.

• Some players find it difficult to feel comfortable at Augusta National, with its imposing length and smooth greens. Others, like Zalatoris, acclimate quickly.

Zalatoris, a San Francisco native who lived in the Bay Area until age 9 (when his family moved to Dallas), was runner-up on his Masters debut last year, behind Hideki Matsuyama . Zalatoris made another splash in his encore, shooting 67 on Sunday to soar into a tie for sixth.

It makes sense because 25-year-old Zalatoris hits the ball far and high, usually the ingredients for success in Augusta. But it’s harder to gauge how younger players will manage their games and their nerves around the stepped layout.

That doesn’t seem to be a problem with Zalatoris, looking early on for a green jacket before too long.

• Another player linked to the Bay Area, Morikawa, also shone on Sunday. Morikawa’s final 67 propelled him into a tie for fifth place, his best finish in three Masters starts.

Equally remarkable was how Morikawa finished his final lap. Moments after McIlroy improbably drilled his bunker shot on No. 18, Morikawa entered the same cavernous bunker – and also drilled for a birdie.

Morikawa clearly knows how to rise to the occasion. Remember how he secured his first major title, at the 2020 PGA Championship at Harding Park in San Francisco: he hit his drive onto the green at the short par-4 16th hole, then sank the putt from the eagle.

One big difference: There were no spectators at Harding, due to the pandemic. Sunday’s bunker shot sparked a fitting roar from Augusta’s National Gallery.

Ron Kroichick covers golf for The San Francisco Chronicle. Email: rkroichick@sfchronicle.comTwitter: @ronkroichick

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