Scottie Scheffler’s dream season seemed destined for a dream finish.
With a six-shot lead through three rounds of the season-capping Tour Championship, Scheffler was cruising toward his fifth win of the year, plus the FedEx Cup title and the $18 million payday that comes with it.
But in the final round at East Lake, Scheffler could not rise to the moment. He bogeyed three of his first six holes, and by the seventh hole, Rory McIlroy had caught him. He and McIlroy dueled through the middle portion of the round but when Scheffler failed to get up and down on 16, McIlroy took the outright lead and never relinquished it.
McIlroy, who had opened the tournament with a triple bogey and at one point was double-digits off the lead, was the unlikely victor.
And then something even more unlikely happened.
As McIlroy walked off the 18th green, one of the first people he encountered was the father of the player he had just trounced by seven shots and, in essence, taken millions from.
Awkward? Could have been, sure. But instead it turned out to be something more like heartwarming.
McIlroy paced straight toward Scheffler’s father, who is also named Scott, embraced him and said, “I’m sorry.”
I’m sorry. Imagine that. Apologizing for doing your job.
“No, you don’t have to do that,” Scott said.
“He deserves it,” McIlroy said; at this point they were talking over one another. “He’s had an unbelievable year.”
“I love you, too,” Scott said, smiling.
It was one of the sweetest scenes you’ll ever see in the cutthroat world of professional golf. And it didn’t end there.
Meredith Scheffler, Scottie’s wife, also swooped in for a hug.
“So proud of you,” she said. “That’s amazing. You kicked butt today. Congrats.”
Then it was Scottie’s mother’s turn. Another hug for McIlroy and more words of encouragement: “Congrats. Good job. Great job.”
No one likes to see their son or husband lose, but if it has to happen, McIlroy qualifies as a loveable foil. This year especially. In the face of LIV Golf’s rise, McIlroy has become the PGA Tour’s most vocal brand ambassador. If he’s not singing the Tour’s praises, he’s needling its upstart competitor.
As McIlroy himself said after his win Sunday: “It’s been a tumultuous time for the world of men’s professional golf. I’ve been right in the middle of it. … I guess every chance I get, I’m trying to defend what I feel is the best place to play elite professional golf in the world. It’s in some ways fitting that I was able to get this done today to sort of round off a year that has been very, very challenging and different.”
In some ways fitting? McIlroy was the perfect champion for the moment.
Ask the father of the guy he beat.