The wait is over for Scottie Scheffler.
The 25-year-old Texan sank a 26-foot birdie putt on the third extra hole to defeat Patrick Cantlay at the WM Phoenix Open and claim his first PGA Tour victory.
“I think the first one is probably always the hardest and I definitely made it pretty difficult on myself today,” Scheffler said.
To hear former Tour pro turned CBS broadcaster Colt Knost tell it, he always knew Scheffler was destined for greatness. He remembers when the rangy Scheffler was knee-high to him, a kid who couldn’t get enough of practicing at Royal Oaks Golf Club in Dallas, where Tour winners such as Justin Leonard, Hunter Mahan and Harrison Frazar were regulars.
“He just followed us all around like a little puppy dog,” Knost recalled.
At the range, Scheffler became known for peppering a yellow pole from 70 to 90 yards depending on where the tee was set up that day.
“That was kind of Scottie’s pole,” Knost said. “Every five minutes, you just heard this ding, and Scottie would just turn around and smile. He would wear that thing out.”
Knost has never forgotten the time he was practicing in a bunker and Scheffler sat on top of a bucket of balls watching him for at least 30 minutes and then helped Knost pick them up. But that wasn’t all he did.
“I see this ball come flying out of the bunker and land and kind of spin. I’m like, ‘What in the world was that?’ And I look over and it’s Scottie and I say, ‘How the hell did you do that?’ He said, ‘I was just watching you and just did what you did.’ He just had that weird ability. He would see things, and then he could go do it himself, and to get a ball to spin out of the bunker at nine years old was just really, really impressive.”
So was Scheffler’s resume, which included U.S. Junior Amateur champion, All-American at Texas and Korn Ferry Tour Player of the Year. Scheffler already had shot 59 in a FedEx Cup playoff event, had a chance to win a host of Tour events, most recently at the Houston Open, but victory had remained elusive. Entering the week at No. 16 in the Official World Golf Ranking, Scheffler was the highest-ranked player in the world without a PGA Tour victory.
He added Ryder Cup stud to that resume in September, teaming with Bryson DeChambeau in Four-Ball and knocking off World No. 1 Jon Rahm in singles on Sunday. On Saturday, he was asked what he thought was harder: winning a Tour event, shooting 59 or beating Rahm?
“Well, apparently winning a tournament might be the hardest,” he said.
Scheffler opened with rounds of 68-71 and trailed by nine strokes at the tournament’s midway point. But he torched the back nine at TPC Scottsdale to the tune of seven threes on the scorecard en route to tying the back-nine record of 29. His 62 was the lowest round of the tournament and earned him a spot in the final threesome for the second straight year.
On Sunday, Scheffler overcame three bogeys in a four-hole stretch on the front nine at TPC Scottsdale and trailed by three strokes after a bogey at No. 12. Having the veteran presence of caddie Ted Scott, who won 12 times on the PGA Tour with Bubba Watson and joined Scheffler at the RSM Classic in November, was a calming influence.
“I think we kind of sit on the same wavelength. We get along really well. He does a good job keeping me level-headed and making jokes and having fun,” Scheffler said. “We never felt totally out of the golf tournament, and I looked at him on 14 green, we were only I think maybe two back at the time, and I think I was a little bit surprised still to be that close to the lead.”
Scheffler birdied four of the last six holes to make up his deficit, but missed a 6-foot birdie putt on the final hole to win in regulation. He signed for 4-under 67 and finished with a 72-hole total of 16-under 268.
The calendar may have flipped but Cantlay, who was named PGA Tour Player of the Year and is the reigning FedEx Cup champion, continued his torrid run with a bogey-free 4-under 67 on Sunday. He, too, missed a 10-foot birdie at 18 for the win. Still, he’s won two times and hasn’t finished outside the top-10 in his last six starts, and is an impressive 132-under par in his last 30 Tour rounds, with 28 of them in the 60s.
Cantlay, however, could only manage three pars in the playoff, including missing from 11 feet to extend it to a fourth hole.
“I played well today,” Cantlay said. “I hit a lot of good putts and didn’t really get anything to go in all day. Scottie obviously played really well this weekend and deserves to win.”
Seeking his first win, rookie Sahith Theegala, the 54-hole leader who was playing on a sponsor’s exemption, built a three-stroke lead after five holes, but made a bogey at the par-3 seventh and Cantlay rolled in three birdies on the front side to catch him at 15 under. Theegala hung tough with birdies at Nos. 12 and 15, but his tee shot at the drivable par-4 17th hole rolled into the water to the left of the green and he made bogey.
“I thought I hit a great shot on 17. It was cutting,” Theegala said. “As long as it’s another yard right, I think that’s perfect. Kick straight and it’s good; kicked left into the water there.”
Theegala closed in 1-under 70 to finish tied for third with defending champion Brooks Koepka (69) and Olympic gold medalist Xander Schauffele (68).
One day after Sam Ryder made an ace at the infamous par-3 16th hole, Carlos Ortiz of Mexico made it rain in the desert again, holing his 9-iron from 178 yards for an ace. A shower of beer, ice and cans, one of which nailed Ortiz in the back, created a rain delay of sorts on another picture-perfect weather day. Ortiz said he used the time for cleanup in aisle 16th green to calm down, and he drove the 17th green to make back-to-back eagles. Ortiz shot 67 and finished in a tie for 33rd place.
“That was pretty special,” Ortiz said. “And then making that 2 on the next, that’s a first for me, making a 1 and then a 2.”
“Today was a little bit better,” Rahm said. “The only time I really felt in command of the golf swing was the first 18 holes and the last nine. That’s about it. Everything else in between, there was a bit of doubt in a lot of the swings.”
But there’s no doubting that Scheffler is officially a Tour winner, becoming the fifth first-time winner on the Tour this season and third in a row – following in the footsteps of Luke List and Tom Hoge. It took longer than expected for Scheffler to bust through, so, it was only fitting he should have to wait three extra holes to taste victory.
“He’s a worldbeater,” Knost said. “Now that he’s got that first one, I think the floodgates are going to open for him.”