Many more miles to go, but Scottie Scheffler on a Tiger-like run

Many more miles to go, but Scottie Scheffler on a Tiger-like run
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HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. – With any attempt at generational comparisons, context is always king. For example, any conversation comparing Scottie Scheffler’s current run to Tiger Woods in his prime will be muddied by the unrivaled bias of Woods’ accomplishments.

For most, the conversation begins and ends with the simplest of math – 15 > 2 – that’s how many majors Woods and Scheffler have won, respectively. But in the wake of Scheffler’s four-stroke romp at Augusta National on Sunday for his second green jacket, a more nuanced comparison does seem apropos.

Statistically, Scheffler is on pace to rival Woods’ best years with a 2.812 strokes gained: total average, which ranks behind Tiger’s play in 2006 (3.442), ’07 (3.092) and ’09 (3.189). Although with three majors and more than half the season still to play, that analytical data point is still very much a work in progress.

Woods’ brilliance was also sustained over decades compared to Scheffler’s current run, which is just a few years old, but for those who faced Woods in his prime, those who were around when Sunday red was much more than a marketing concept, there is something very familiar about Scheffler’s play.

“Yeah, it’s pretty dominant. It seems like every time Scottie tees it up and every time Tiger teed it up they’re in contention, which is a testament to how good they actually are,” Lucas Glover said. “It’s hard to get into contention a couple of times a year for a regular player and these guys literally do it every week. Even if they don’t win, they’re right there.”

Based on pure volume, Scheffler’s tear – which includes nine victories the last three years, including two majors and two Players Championships, and 36 top-10 finishes in 57 starts – is unquestionably Tiger-esque.

But the comparisons go well beyond results. It’s the way in which Scheffler has emerged as the game’s undisputed top player that feels so familiar. Last season, Scheffler led the Tour in strokes gained: tee-to green with a 2.614 average, which was second all-time to only Woods in 2006 (2.982).

“I saw someone say that what Scottie is doing is a once in a 30-year thing. Every five years we normally have someone come out who is exceptional, but this is like a 30-year thing and he’s done it for two years straight now. It’s not just a hot two months,” Webb Simpson said. “This run he’s on is the closest we’ve seen since Tiger, for sure.

“Rory [McIlroy] has had some amazing stretches, Jordan [Spieth] has had some amazing stretches, but this long of a stretch hasn’t been done since Tiger.”

There’s also a thread between the two based on where Scheffler seems to perform his best. Like Woods, the current world No. 1 excels on the games most demanding tests – including Augusta National, TPC Sawgrass and Bay Hill, which are all venues where Woods has also won multiple times.

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But perhaps the best comparison between Scheffler and Woods can be seen on Sundays when, more times than not, they separate themselves from the pack. On Sunday at the Masters, Scheffler began the day with a one-shot lead, posted a round-of-the-day 68 and won by four. Last month at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, he began the final round tied for the lead, shot a round-of-the-day 66 and won by five.

Like Woods, Scheffler’s not just winning, he’s winning with style.

“[Scheffler] seems to be much more aggressive by nature. Tiger, he’s said it, he’s pretty conservative early in the rounds and early in the tournaments. But Scottie seems to go after it the whole time,” Glover said. “His Sunday performances when it matters are very impressive.”

For a generation of accomplished players there was a cost that came with Tiger’s name moving atop a leaderboard. In his prime, some would argue Woods’ presence was worth a half-stroke and Scheffler is beginning to cast a similar shadow.

“I think it was Wyndham [Clark] at The Players who said he and his caddie talked about how it was a given that Scottie was going to play well on Sunday,” Simpson said. “He’s kind of got that aura about him on Sundays now. We know that if he’s close to the lead he’s going to produce good golf.”

Any comparisons to Woods are normally as unfair as they are unfounded. He was a generational player who accomplished the most difficult feat of exceeding the wild expectations he faced earlier in his career. But Scheffler’s current pace and flawless play has created a rare connection with Tiger.

“[Scheffler] does it without the fist pumps and the flare that Tiger does it, but I think the golf ball is every bit as good,” Justin Rose said. “The shots he’s hitting, the course management, the short game, it’s all as good [as Woods] but it’s just not wrapped up in as flashy a package.”

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