Scottie Scheffler set for final-round duel with Cameron Smith at Augusta

Scheffler holds a three-shot lead as he chases a fourth victory in six tournaments.

Scottie Scheffler took a three-shot lead into the final round of the Masters (Matt Slocum/AP)
Scottie Scheffler took a three-shot lead into the final round of the Masters (Matt Slocum/AP)

On January 1 this year, Scottie Scheffler and Cameron Smith had one individual PGA Tour title between them.

Four months later, the two hottest players in golf made up the final pair in the closing round of the 86th Masters as they threatened to turn the year’s first major into a head-to-head duel.

On nine under par, Scheffler held a three-shot lead over Smith, with South Korea’s Sungjae Im two shots further back and 2011 winner Charl Schwartzel and former Open champion Shane Lowry another two strokes back.

The good news for the chasing pack was that Scheffler had failed to convert either of his previous 54-hole leads into victories at the 2020 American Express or 2021 Houston Open.

The bad news was that those events came before he broke his duck on the PGA Tour by winning the WM Phoenix Open in February, since when he has made it three wins in five starts with victories in the Arnold Palmer Invitational and WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play.

Jason Day is the last player to win four times in a six-tournament stretch on the PGA Tour, a run which included his only major title, the 2015 US PGA Championship.

The final round at Whistling Straits that year was also the last time before Sunday that two players in the world’s top 10 made up the final group (Day and Jordan Spieth), with Scheffler the world number one and Smith ranked sixth.

Cameron Smith watches his tee shot on the fourth hole during the third round of the Masters (Robert F Bukaty/AP)

Smith started the year better than anyone with a record 34-under-par winning total in the Sentry Tournament of Champions and the Australian’s last start before the Masters saw him win the prestigious Players Championship at Sawgrass.

The 28-year-old from Brisbane also has his name in the Masters record books already, becoming the first player to shoot in the 60s in all four rounds when finishing joint runner-up – with Im – to Dustin Johnson in 2020.

With 26 of the last 31 Masters coming from the final group, it was little wonder that Scheffler focused on getting the better of Smith on Sunday.

“It should be a great fight,” Scheffler said after his third round of 71.

“Obviously Cam is a tremendous player, he’s got a fantastic short game and he’s coming off a huge win at The Players (Championship).

“Both of us are in good form so I’m definitely looking forward to the challenge of playing with him. For me, being in this position, it’s nice to be in control of the golf tournament.

“And all I’m trying to do out there is be committed to my shots and execute, and after that it’s not really up to me.”

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