Le Pays De France - Scheffler in command at Masters after Tiger's emotional finish

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Scheffler in command at Masters after Tiger's emotional finish
Scheffler in command at Masters after Tiger's emotional finish

Scheffler in command at Masters after Tiger's emotional finish

Top-ranked Scottie Scheffler seized command in Sunday's final round of the Masters while Tiger Woods called his astonishing return from severe leg injuries a "positive" effort despite his worst-ever scoring at Augusta National.

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Scheffler, seeking his first major title and a fourth victory in six starts, holed a spectacular chip-in birdie from 87 feet at the par-4 third and made the turn at Augusta National with a four-stroke lead.

The 25-year-old American blunted an early charge by Australian Cameron Smith, the Players Championship winner who opened with back-to-back birdies to trim Scheffler's lead to one, then stumbled four adrift with bogeys at the third and fourth holes.

Both birdied from about five feet at the par-4 seventh and parred to the turn to keep Scheffler ahead by four.

Four-time major winner Rory McIlroy, seeking a green jacket to complete a career Grand Slam, put his approach to 10 feet and sank the eagle putt at the par-5 13th to reach 6-under, five back of Scheffler and 7-under for the round.

Scheffler and Smith, golf's hottest talents, were both seeking a breakthrough major win, the green jacket and record $2.7 million top prize from a $15 million purse on an iconic stage.

Scheffler won his first US PGA title at February's Phoenix Open, added another last month at Bay Hill and overtook Spain's Jon Rahm for the ranking summit by capturing the WGC Match Play crown two weeks ago.

Smith became the first player to fire four rounds in the 60s in one year at Augusta National in a 2020 runner-up effort and could become only the second to win the Masters and Players in the same year after Woods in 2001.

Woods, meanwhile, completed his amazing comeback to competition only 14 months after a car crash that left him hospitalized for weeks and unable to walk for months.

"It has been a tough road and one that I'm very thankful to have the opportunity to be able to grind through," Woods said.

The 15-time major winner fired a second-straight 78 -- his highest-ever rounds at Augusta National -- to finish on 13-over 301, his highest 72-hole total at the famed course by eight strokes.

Woods was 47th, set to be his worst Masters finish other than a missed cut as an amateur.

But the fact Woods was able to walk the course and play at all was nothing short of incredible given the 46-year-old medical marvel had not played a top event for 17 months and feared amputation of a right leg now held together with rods, plates, pins and screws.

"Given where I was a little over a year ago and what my prospects were, to end up here and be able to play in all four rounds, even a month ago, I didn't know if I could pull this off," Woods said.

"I think it's a positive. I've got some work to do. Looking forward to it."

Thousands of cheering supporters lined the holes to watch his amazing efforts, which stole the spotlight at Augusta National ahead of the green jacket duel down the back nine.

"It was an unbelievable feeling to have the patrons' support out there," Woods said. "I wasn't playing my best but to have their support out there, I don't think words can describe it."

Playing 18 holes on four consecutive days for the first time since his accident, Woods struggled on the same layout where he won his first major 25 years ago.

Woods birdied the par-5 second but missed greens in regulation led to bogeys at the fourth through sixth holes. Another missed green led to a bogey at the 11th.

- McIlroy charge -

At the par-5 13th, Woods put his second in the azaleas before a left-handed, backwards-club pop-out shot to the green helped him save par.

Woods made a 37-foot bogey putt at 14 after missing a 27-foot par putt, found pine straw left at 17 on the way to a double bogey then closed with a par as fans gave him a standing ovation. Woods smiled and tipped his cap in appreciation.

Woods arrived at Augusta chasing a record-tying sixth Masters crown and departed knowing he had the fortitude to play majors again.

McIlroy charged into contention after starting the day 10 strokes adrift.

McIlroy birdied the first and third holes, added back-to-back birdies at seven and the par-5 eighth and chipped in for another at 10, then made his crucial eagle.

The greatest last-round comeback to win in Masters history was an eight-stroke fightback by Jack Burke in 1956.