Thursday, May 26, 2022

2022 WGC-Dell Match Play winner, grades: Scottie Scheffler gets third victory of last two months

This time 43 days ago, Scottie Scheffler had never won on the PGA Tour. Six weeks later, he’s won three tournaments, earned $6.2 million and is set to become the No. 1-ranked golfer in the world.

Scheffler took down Dustin Johnson 3 and 1 in the semifinals of the 2022 WGC-Dell Match Play on Sunday morning and Kevin Kisner 4 and 3 in the finals later in the afternoon to clinch the event. Scheffler dominated throughout the day, leading 31 of the 32 holes he played against two of the last four champions of this tournament. His match against Kisner was never close. After they tied the first hole with birdies, it looked like the beginning of an epic tussle. But Kisner stumbled a bit the rest of the day, and Scheffler easily put him away with four more birdies and a bogey-free round.

The dominance was emblematic of his week, too. Scheffler nearly led the field in strokes gained from tee to green on the week, which is not necessarily an indication of terrific match play but normally gives you a good idea of who’s giving themselves the most chances to advance. Scheffler took advantage of them. He sneaked out of pool play against Tommy Fleetwood, Matt Fitzpatrick and Ian Poulter by defeating Fitzpatrick in a six-hole playoff on Friday afternoon.

Then he put the gas down. In 66 holes spread over four matches on the weekend, Scheffler trailed for just five and didn’t trail for any of his last 57 holes. It’s the completion of a six-week run of unprecedented success for the 25-year-old. 

Forty-two days ago, Scheffler was busy closing out the WM Phoenix Open on Super Bowl Sunday. It felt monumental at the time — a 25-year-old breaking through for the first win of his career in a big moment with a great field. Now, it almost feels like a footnote of the last six weeks. Little did we know at the time that it would be the gateway into two more (and arguably more impressive) wins which led to his No. 1 ranking in the world.

I did not know the ceiling was this high for Scheffler. I’m not sure he did, either. When he was asked after his round about the No. 1 ranking, he burst into tears and said, “I never really got this far in my dreams.”

He did get that far in reality, though, and somebody we’ve been saying needed to grab his first win for a while now did a lot more than that in just under two months. A star emerged in Phoenix on Super Bowl Sunday. A young American who had found success and crushed at the Ryder Cup had just won his first big one. But something happened in the interim, between Phoenix and Austin. Now, in a compressed period of time with the most important event of the year just over a week away in Augusta, Georgia, Scheffler is no longer simply a star on the PGA Tour.

When you’re 25, a three-time winner this season and the No. 1 player in the world, you can’t be. No, going into the Masters looking down at Justin Thomas, Rory McIlroy and Johnson, Scheffler is now a superstar. It happened so quickly you may have missed it, but there’s time to catch up because Scottie Scheffler is going to be among the best in the world for a long time. Grade: A+

Here are the rest of our grades for the 2022 WGC-Dell Match Play.

2. Kevin Kisner: Another impressive run for Kisner, who has played Austin Country Club the same way Hideki Matsuyama has played TPC Scottsdale or McIlroy has played Quail Hollow Country Club. He has absolutely owned the place with three Sunday appearances in the last four appearances at this event. All three ended with spots in the championship match. Despite the loss to Scheffler, Kisner’s record on this course is completely ridiculous, and it reveals both the merits of Austin Country Club as a match play course and how good he can be on a track that doesn’t disproportionately reward length off the tee. Kisner’s use of every shot he had in his bag of tricks was a pleasure to watch and has also become the norm on this golf course. Grade: A+

4. Dustin Johnson: D.J. had been pretty up and down coming into this week, which is mildly disconcerting entering major championship season. His run into the semifinals was certainly impressive, and he hit the ball well in his quarterfinal matchup with four-time major winner, Brooks Koepka. However, a word of caution for those who might overreact to a good match play week (because match play can sometimes conceal some problems): D.J. hit the ball fine but not tremendously. It was mostly a hot putter and the right matchups that propelled him into the Sunday afternoon matches. In fact, of the four golfers who reached the Sunday four, D.J. had the worst tee-to-green numbers of anyone. This may or may not mean anything for the Masters in two weeks, but it’s interesting to consider up against how much success he had throughout the week. Grade: A

T5. Brooks Koepka: I was impressed with Koepka’s fight. He had the same problem D.J. did in their quarterfinal matchup: absolutely nothing fell on the greens (unfortunately for him, more putts fell for D.J. than they did for Koepka). However, Koepka has been popping up a bit over the last few months and is a fascinating proposition going into Augusta National. In his last 22 major championship starts, he has 18 finishes inside the top 15. He hit the ball well in Austin and has three top 20s in his last five starts in stroke-play events on the PGA Tour. At 18-1 for the Masters right now, he has my full attention. Grade: A

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