Washington: Top-ranked Scottie Scheffler captured his first major title on Sunday by winning the Masters in dominating fashion, holding firm down the stretch to seize the green jacket after Tiger Woods completed his comeback from severe leg injuries.
Scheffler fired a final-round one-under-par 71 to finish 72 holes on 10-under 278 and defeat four-time major winner Rory McIlroy by three strokes with Australian Cameron Smith and Ireland's Shane Lowry sharing third on 283.
"It was a long day, a tough day for me," Scheffler said. "I just tried to keep my head down and execute my shots."
Scheffler, who only won his first PGA title in February, holed a spectacular chip-in birdie from 87 feet at the par-4 third to blunt an early charge by Smith, last month's Players Championship winner.
"It was not a shot I expected to see go in but it got things off and rolling for me," Scheffler said.
He also birdied the 14th and sank a 14-foot birdie putt at the par-5 15th to signal there would be no collapse to open a door for McIlroy, chasing an Augusta National win to complete a career Grand Slam.
Scheffler endured an agonizing double bogey at the 18th hole, needing three putts from inside five feet before finally sinking the putt to secure his breakthrough major triumph.
"I didn't want to break my concentration," Scheffler said. "The minute I did was on 18 green when I finally got on there and I had a five-shot lead and was like, 'All right, now I can enjoy this.' And you saw the results of that."
The 25-year-old American took a $2.7 million top prize from a $15 million purse and joined 1991 Masters champion Ian Woosnam as the only players to win majors in their debut events as world number one.
Scheffler is only the fifth player to win the Masters while atop the rankings, joining Welshman Woosnam and Americans Fred Couples, Dustin Johnson and Woods, whose epic injury fightback dominated attention all week.
Spectators gave Woods a standing ovation at the 18th green for his astonishing return to golf 14 months after a car crash that left him hospitalised for weeks and unable to walk for months.
"I wasn't playing my best but to have their support out there, I don't think words can describe it," Woods said.
The 15-time major winner fired weekend 78s, his worst Masters rounds, to finish with his highest Augusta National 72-hole score of 301 and in a worst-ever 47th place.
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.
Woods arrived at Augusta chasing a record-tying sixth Masters crown and departed knowing he had the fortitude to play majors again.
"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.
Six starts, four wins
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 summit by capturing the WGC Match Play crown two weeks ago.
Smith, who missed a chance to join Woods in 2001 as the only players to win the Players and Masters in the same year, opened with back-to-back birdies to trim Scheffler's lead to one stroke, but faltered with bogeys at the third and fourth holes.
"Just too many mistakes," Smith said. "Those two bogeys really slowed me down."
Both birdied from about five feet at the par-4 seventh and bogeyed the 10th.
Smith sank a 15-foot birdie putt at 11 but his tee shot at the par-3 12th found a watery grave in Rae's Creek on the way to a triple bogey to fall six adrift.
"At 12, that was the tournament," Smith said.
Scheffler, meanwhile, parred his way through Amen Corner, a perilous three-hole stretch where Scheffler sank par putts from seven feet at 11, nine feet at 12 and missed a five-foot birdie putt at the par-5 13th.
The par saves thwarted a dramatic run by McIlroy, who delivered his best Masters round with a bogey-free 64 that included a 10-foot eagle putt at 13 and a 54-foot birdie chip-in from a greenside bunker at the 18th.
"That's as happy as I've ever been on a golf course right there," McIlroy said after his best major finish since a share of second at the 2018 British Open. He hasn't won a major since 2014.