After much of the final round of the 2021 Masters had seen Hideki Matsuyama hold a significant lead, everything changed on the 15th hole, and suddenly there seemed to be a dramatic finish on our hands, waiting to unfold. When Matsuyama found the water at the par-four 15th, it opened up the chance for his playing partner Xander Schauffele to close the gap. A sensational bunker shot paved the way for the American to secure his fourth birdie in four holes, while Matsuyama was forced to settle for a bogey. Out of nowhere, a four-shot lead had been reduced to two, and Schauffele was looking good value in the golf odds from Betfair to close the gap.
Then came the 16th hole, a par three which is usually a banker for at least a par if you can avoid the water, and Schauffele looked confident as he approached the tee. However, as his ball disappeared into the shimmery surface of the pond, so too did Schauffele’s Green Jacket hopes, and a devastating triple bogey meant Matsuyama could afford a bogey himself and still maintain a good lead going into the 17th.
The disappointment was etched on Schauffele’s face for the remainder of the round. Having done the hard work in holing four consecutive birdies to get himself right back in contention, he had done the unthinkable and thrown it all away. But that’s Augusta, and Schauffele won’t be the last to see their dreams dashed amid the tall pines and pink azaleas.
Unfortunately for the 27-year-old, these kinds of near misses have become a common theme for his career. He has yet to get his hands on a major championship trophy, despite having earned top-10 finishes on 10 separate occasions. Having ended tied for second at the 2019 Masters, when Tiger Woods seemed destined for glory, perhaps as Schauffele approached the 16th the thought crossed his mind that this was his best chance yet at winning a major. He had the momentum, Matsuyama had just made a bogey, and the Green Jacket was within touching distance.
Such thinking was borne out by the fact that Schauffele hit his tee shot on the 16th too short, almost as if he was trying to be too cautious, rather than continuing the gung-ho golf he had produced in the four previous holes to bring himself within touching distance of his playing partner. Once again, it wasn’t to be, and now Schauffele’s thoughts must turn to May’s PGA Championship.
There are only so many times you can say that experiences such as Schauffele’s at this year’s Masters will do a player good in the long run. Every time a player misses out narrowly on major championship glory, it’s bound to hurt that little bit more, and it’s only so long before those disappointments grind you down.
Schauffele needs a major title, and you feel that if he can fall over the line in one of the big four events soon, then the floodgates could well open. For now, he’ll have to live with the sickening mental image of his ball plopping into the water on 16, and yet another chance at winning a major championship being doused.