By Andrew Both
AUGUSTA, Ga. (Reuters) – Two years after finishing one stroke behind champion Tiger Woods at the Masters, Xander Schauffele endured more disappointment when what he thought was a “perfect” shot finished in the water and cost him a chance of winning on Sunday.
What had seemed to be an emphatic Hideki Matsuyama coronation only an hour earlier suddenly became interesting when Schauffele ran off four straight birdies to cut a seven-shot deficit to just two strokes with three holes left at Augusta National.
The pressure was very much on Matsuyama as Schauffele teed it up at the par-three 16th with a chance to stick his ball close to the hole and ratchet the heat up yet another notch.
Deciding on an eight-iron, Schauffele hit what he thought was a well-executed shot. But his ball landed short of the green and bounced left into the pond, falling victim, he said, to a gust of wind.
His subsequent triple-bogey allowed Matsuyama to breathe easier, though in the end the Japanese player still had his work cut out to outlast American Will Zalatoris by one stroke.
And though the history books will forever show Zalatoris was runner-up, it is Schauffele who will wonder most what might have been.
Only he and Zalatoris were able to challenge Matsuyama, who became the first man from his nation to win a major championship.
“I felt like I made it exciting at the end, hit a really good shot on 16,” Schauffele said after carding an even-par 72 to tie for third with Jordan Spieth, three shots behind Matsuyama.
“I hit a perfect shot. It got smoked and eaten up (by the wind). You could kind of see it. The ball hovered there.
“I made a mistake on shot selection … and the rest is history.”
Schauffele teed off equal second with Zalatoris, Englishman Justin Rose and Australian Marc Leishman, but the latter two were never a factor after matching bogeys at the first hole.
(Reporting by Andrew Both; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell)