ATLANTA – Scottie Scheffler has unfinished business this week at the Tour Championship.
A year ago, the world No. 1 squandered a six-stroke lead as Rory McIlroy mounted the largest final-round comeback in tournament history, shooting 66 to win the FedEx Cup by a stroke.
Scheffler helped McIlroy’s cause by making three bogeys in the first five holes.
“I don’t know if impatient is the right word, in the final round, but I just didn’t get off to a good start,” Scheffler recalled. “I remember walking down No. 8 and kind of just having a talk with myself about, you know, ‘This is why you practice, this is why you prepare,’ just kind of give yourself a little pump-up speech, and then after that I snapped right back in.”
Asked what he learned about that defeat, he said, “how much I like to fight out there.”
Scheffler returns to East Lake Golf Club this week feeling the sting of another close call on another Sunday. Scheffler looked poised to notch his third PGA Tour win of the season, and first since March, at the BMW Championship until Viktor Hovland closed with seven birdies in his final nine holes to race by him.
“I think it’s just quite difficult to win out here. I mean, like, last week I think is a great example, going into Sunday tied for the lead, and I think I was 5 under on 17 tee for the day on a golf course that’s hosted the U.S. Open and I got bypassed,” he said.
Scheffler has been a model of consistency all season, winning the WM Phoenix Open and the Players Championship and finishing T-12 or better in 19 of 22 starts. Stats guru Justin Ray noted on social media that if Scheffler hits 62 or more greens in regulation this week, he will be the first player to finish a Tour season with a greens-in-regulation percentage of 75 percent or higher since Tiger Woods in 2000.
“He could end up with the best ball-striking season of all time,” McIlroy noted on Wednesday. “He’s hit the ball as good, if not better, than Tiger hit it in 2000, which is the benchmark for all of us.”
Despite his otherworldly ball striking, Scheffler’s putter has kept him out of visiting the winner’s circle more often. Sunday will mark 168 days since Scheffler’s last win, during which he’s reeled off nine top-5 finishes in his last 12 starts.
“Any time I don’t win a tournament I’m disappointed, but being a professional golfer I think you try to find a way to live with that disappointment, because you just, you can’t win that often,” he said. “But I’m trying my best to do it every week.”
Don’t feel too bad for Scheffler – he’s earned more than $20 million this season, setting a Tour record and became the first player to enter the Tour Championship with the lead in the FedEx Cup two years in a row. He enters the tournament at 10 under in the staggered start, two strokes better than his closest pursuer Viktor Hovland. At the conclusion of the Tour Championship, the player with the lowest stroke total over 72 holes when combined with FedEx Cup starting strokes will be crowned the FedEx Cup champion.
“I feel like I’ve joked a decent amount about being No. 1, you don’t get any extra strokes and you show up this week and I do get some extra strokes. So it’s a bit strange, but it should be a fun week,” Scheffler said.
But starting in front is no guarantee of victory. As McIlroy noted, he fell as many as 11 strokes behind Scheffler after two holes of the opening round last year before completing his improbable comeback.
“If I can come back from 11 shots, I feel like everyone in this field should feel like they have a chance to win,” McIlroy said.