By Phil Casey, PA Golf Correspondent
As one of just 25 players to have been ranked world number one in the men’s game, Scottie Scheffler is already a member of a pretty exclusive club.
But in a few days’ time at Augusta National the unassuming Texan will attempt to join an even more elite group as he bids to defend his Masters title.
Despite the Masters having the smallest field of any of the four majors and being the only one played on the same course every year, Jack Nicklaus, Nick Faldo and Tiger Woods remain the only players to have slipped on the famous green jacket in consecutive years.
The list of defending champions who even had a chance to secure back-to-back wins is not exactly long either, with 2015 winner Jordan Spieth coming closest in recent times when he squandered a five-shot lead 12 months later and finished second to Danny Willett.
“Well I think it’s very hard to win one major and it’s probably even harder to win two,” Scheffler said in a teleconference to promote his title defence.
“As you go from one to the next it probably gets harder as it increases. So I think with a small sample size of back-to-back champions, that’s just because they’re really, really good at golf.
“So, as I’m approaching the Masters, I’m not going to think of myself as the defending champion, I’m just going to go out there like I usually do and try and execute shots and play good solid rounds of golf.
“Yes, I am the defending champion and I would love to defend and bring this jacket back home with me, but I’m not going to be thinking about that standing there on the first tee. I’m going to be thinking about hitting the fairway and trying to hit the green.
“Everybody starts at even par. Doesn’t matter if I’m defending champion or not, they don’t give me any shots.”
While that is, of course, true, Scheffler has already defended one title this year at the WM Phoenix Open and came close to another, reaching the semi-finals of the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play in Austin.
In between those events he also won the prestigious Players Championship by five shots, despite revealing that he had again struggled with his emotions before the final round.
Scheffler admitted he had “cried like a baby” with wife Meredith on the morning of the final round of the Masters, but added: “I hope it resonated with people.
“I like to be honest in these settings and that was definitely something that I wanted to be honest about. I think it was very helpful.
Served in Honor of Mr. Scottie Scheffler. #themasters pic.twitter.com/AbpHBJ4MgN
— The Masters (@TheMasters) March 15, 2023
“It’s always special in marriage when you’re able to share what’s really going on. I think that’s one of the cool things about marriage, that somebody loves you for who you truly are, not some fake version of yourself.
“So any time I can get that stuff out in the open, and she can speak truth to me, is very special for both of us and it definitely helped me not only that day, but it’s very helpful in life as well.”
While Scheffler may be happy to let his emotions be known after the event, anyone expecting them to be on display out on the course will be in for a disappointment.
And he highlighted how that worked in his favour on his way to the green jacket last year, when his three-shot overnight lead had been trimmed to one and he hit a shocking tee shot on the third.
The Tournament leader chips in on No. 3. #themasters pic.twitter.com/ftP97jAvTr
— The Masters (@TheMasters) April 10, 2022
“Golf is a very, very imperfect game and I think being aware of that is really important, especially when you get in those high-stress situations,” Scheffler said.
“I usually kind of fade it off the tee and that shot on three hooked like 40 yards. I had no idea how I hit that bad of a shot.
“But Teddy (Scott, his caddie) and I had a good conversation about nerves and taking things from the range to the golf course and once again just staying patient, not trying to be perfect and recognizing that it’s an imperfect game.”
Fortunately for Scheffler, Cameron Smith had also hit a poor tee shot on the third and, after both men had failed to find the green in two, Scheffler chipped in for a birdie and Smith failed to save par, restoring the former’s three-shot lead.
The rest, as they say, is history.