AUGUSTA, Ga. — Xander Schauffele stepped up to the 16th tee with all the momentum at the Masters.
He had just ripped off four straight birdies.
He had closed the gap on Hideki Matsuyama to a mere two strokes.
Schauffele decided to hit one right at the flag.
“I was coming in hot. I was feeling good,” he said. “I was a little hyper-aggressive on 16.”
Schauffele wound up becoming the latest victim of the iconic par-3 hole known as Redbud — and added another close call to a major championship resume that he admits is becoming “a big ball of scar tissue.”
His 8-iron didn’t go quite as far as he planned, skipped off the side of bank and plopped into the water.
Schauffele wound up with the first triple bogey he’s ever had in a major — in 1,042 holes — and squandered any chance of catching Matsuyama, who went on to become the first man from Japan to capture one of golf’s biggest events.
Schauffele tied for third with Jordan Spieth, three shots behind the winner at 7-under 281. Masters rookie Will Zalatoris slipped through to take the runner-up spot, just one stroke back after Matsuyama bogeyed the final hole.
This is starting to get real familiar for Schauffele, a 27-year-old Californian who is regarded by his peers as one of the game’s best.
In 2019, he made five birdies in seven holes to briefly tie for the Sunday lead at the Masters before giving way to Tiger Woods. Schauffele finished one shot back in a tie for second, but was largely forgotten in the hoopla over Tiger’s 15th major title.
Schaufele, you might remember, also was in a hunt at the 2018 British Open at Carnoustie until a bogey on the 71st hole ended his hopes. Again, he settled for the runner-up spot.
Let’s not forget a third-place showing at the 2019 U.S. Open, along with a top-10 finish at last year’s PGA Championship.
Spieth has called him the “most underrated player in the world,” which tends to happen when you keep coming so close but can’t seem to break through.
Schauffele was at it again Sunday, taking a run at Matsuyama before that big mistake at 16 left him with yet another close-but-no-cigar major.
“I gave him a little excitement,” Schauffele said. “Unfortunately, I hit it in the drink.”
That he even had a chance was a tribute to Schauffele’s skill and resolve.
Starting the day four strokes behind, he quickly went in reverse. A bogey at No. 4, followed by a double-bogey at the next hole after he drove it to a patch of bushes right of the the fairway.
Schauffele steadied himself, but his playing partner in the final group didn’t falter at all.
When they walked off the 11th green, Schauffele was a daunting seven shots behind.
Then, he got hot. And Matsuyama cracked just a bit.
A birdie at the 12th. Two more at the 13th and 14th. When Schauffele managed to get up-and-down from a greenside bunker at the par-5 15th for yet another birdie, his confidence was soaring.
Matsuyama, on the other hand, decided not to lay up at 15, sending his second shot rocketing over the green. It skipped all the way into the pond at 16, leading to a bogey and a two-shot swing for the guys at the top.
Suddenly, it was game on.
“Hideki surprisingly went for the green on 15,” Schauffele said. “I felt like he gave me a little hope there.”
A few minutes later, it was gone.
That same little body of water claimed Schauffele’s ball. Whatever chance he had of winning his first major title went with it.
He’ll try to chalk it up as yet another learning experience.
What choice does he have?
“I’ll be able to sleep tonight,” Schauffele insisted. “I may be tossing and turning, but I’ll be OK.”