Golf roundup: Scottie Scheffler’s putting progress shows in victory

AP photo by Fernando Llano / Scottie Scheffler lines up his putt on the 16th green at Albany Golf Course during the final round of the Hero World Challenge on Sunday in the Bahamas.
AP photo by Fernando Llano / Scottie Scheffler lines up his putt on the 16th green at Albany Golf Course during the final round of the Hero World Challenge on Sunday in the Bahamas.

NASSAU, Bahamas — Scottie Scheffler has made great gains lately in his putting.

Add that to the rest of a stellar game for the No. 1 player in the Official World Golf Ranking, and he made it look easy Sunday.

Scheffler closed with a 4-under-par 68 at Albany Golf Course to finish at 20-under 268 and post a three-shot victory over Austria's Sepp Straka in the Hero World Challenge.

A runner-up in this event the past two years, Scheffler played a bogey-free final round that ensured no one got closer than within two shots on the back nine.

The Hero World Challenge is an unofficial event, though its 20-man field receives world ranking points and Scheffler only solidified his spot at the top. The 27-year-old won for the third time this year — adding to triumphs at the Phoenix Open in February and The Players Championship in March — after earning his first four career wins in 2022, including the Masters.

Scheffler led the PGA Tour in just about every important statistical category this season — off the tee, shots to the green — until he got onto the putting surface. He sought help from highly regarded putting coach Phil Kenyon and is starting to see immediate results.

"I played solid and kept my distance," Scheffler said. "I was just trying to hit good shots and get as many looks as I could for birdies."

Straka had three late birdies for a 64 on his way to second place, while Justin Thomas (67) was a stroke back for his third straight top-five finish dating to September.

The week wasn't a total loss for Tiger Woods, the tournament host playing for the first time since having surgery to fuse his right ankle a few weeks after the Masters in April.

The 47-year-old Woods finished 72 holes for only the third time in two years and has now played six tournaments since his February 2021 car crash in Los Angeles that badly injured the 15-time major champion's right leg.

"Just like I said to you guys on Tuesday, I'm curious ... what this is going to look like," Woods said. "I haven't done it in a while — I haven't done it with my ankle the way it is now, and I was excited each and every day to kind of get through it and kind of start piecing rounds together again. I haven't done this in a long time, so it was fun to feel that again."

Woods closed with a 72 and ended up 18th at par.

Scheffler had not played since being part of the losing U.S. team at the Ryder Cup in October, with this his first 72-hole tournament since the Tour Championship in late August. He said he was optimistic about the work he put in with Kenyon before the Ryder Cup.

"It's nice to see some fast results," Scheffler said. "It's paid off pretty good this week."

Scheffler didn't make his first birdie of the final round until he chipped close on the par-5 sixth and then pitched up the slope on the drivable par-4 seventh to two feet.

Straka, Thomas and Jordan Spieth at times were poised to make a run. Scheffler answered with birdies at the right time to hold them off. He missed a birdie putt on the 17th from just inside three feet, his only miss from inside five feet all week.

Rarely is this holiday event without some measure of drama, and such was the case Sunday. Collin Morikawa was given a two-shot penalty before he teed off for using material in a greens-reading book on the fourth hole Saturday.

Turns out his caddie had used a level on the practice green and put some notations in the book. According to new rules, such notes can only come from traditional methods, without outside devices. Morikawa was informed 15 minutes before his round, frustrated because he said he has been told by other officials and caddies that it was OK.

"Apparently if they tell you something wrong one day in a different tournament, (it) does not carry on, and I understand that. We made the mistake," Morikawa said. "From our understanding, it was fine to use a level on the practice green and see how putts break and write that down. Obviously it's not."

Morikawa (68) finished seventh at 12 under, with Tony Finau (67) and England's Matt Fitzpatrick (70) sharing fourth at 15 under and Spieth (71) a stroke behind them.

Woods was never in the mix after any round, which was not the primary objective. He knew there would be rust, and he felt he knocked a little off each day — but not all of it.

On Sunday, he had a pitch roll back toward his feet on the par-3 second hole for a double bogey, and he hit another poor chip that led to a bogey on the par-5 11th.

Woods remained optimistic he could play one tournament a month in 2024.

"If you ask me right now, I'm a little bit sore," he said. "Once a month seems reasonable. It gives me a couple of weeks to recover. Maybe I can get into a rhythm. That's what the plan was going into next year. I don't see why that would change."

Burmester rolling in South Africa

JOHANNESBURG — Dean Burmester has back-to-back victories in his home country after closing with a a 4-under 68 to win the South African Open.

Burmester was two shots off the lead going into the final round at Blair Atholl Golf & Equestrian Estate. He then made six birdies and two bogeys in tricky conditions to finish at 11-under 277 with a three-stroke advantage over a trio of runners-up: Italy's Renato Paratore (70) Sweden's Jesper Svensson (71) and South Africa's Ryan van Velzen (73).

Van Velzen had shared the 54-hole lead with countryman Jayden Schaper (74), who wound up in a five-way tie for fifth at 7 under.

Last week, Burmester won the Joburg Open. Both that event and the South African Open are co-sanctioned by the country's Sunshine Tour and the Europe-based DP World Tour. The 34-year-old now has four victories on the latter circuit.

"Back to back. I've never done that before, so that was special. It's obviously one as a South African that I've always wanted to win," Burmester said. "It's a tournament I watched growing up, and I watched a lot of legends."

Burmester appeared in danger of failing to make the cut — or having to pull out of the tournament — after not feeling well Friday, but he made it on the number after shooting a 74 and followed that with a 65 on Saturday to put himself in contention.

Burmester said it was extra special to win this week with his family in attendance.

"Last week I won, and my family wasn't there," he said. "This week I won, and my wife and my two kids were there. So it means everything, just to have my two boys there seeing me out front, living out my dream — that's everything, so I'm very thankful."

Burmester and 2011 Masters champion Charl Schwartzel were the only LIV Golf League players in the field. Schwartzel (76) tied for 45th at par.

The only player with a top-100 world ranking in the event was No. 85 Thriston Lawrence, the South African whose 67 was Sunday's best round. He tied for 10th at 6 under.

This was the second of three straight events in South Africa to open the DP World Tour's 2024 season. Up next is the Alfred Dunhill Championship.

Wild finish Down Under

SYDNEY — Chile's Joaquin Niemann beat Japan's Rikuya Hoshino on the second playoff hole to win the Australian Open men's title on a wild final day.

The LIV Golf League player made an eagle on the second extra hole after a number of contenders slipped away on the back nine due to gusting winds at the Australian Golf Club.

After starting the day four shots behind, Niemann produced a stellar 5-under 66 to finish at 14-under 271 as he surged up the leaderboard and took the clubhouse lead.

Hoshino, who was runner-up to Australia's Min Woo Lee at last week's Australian PGA Championship, made a number of clutch putts on the final holes and closed with a 70 to make the playoff.

Lee shot a 72 and finished third at 12 under after a frustrating day on the greens extinguished his hopes of winning in back-to-back weeks, despite sharing the overnight lead with Hoshino.

Former world No. 1 Adam Scott looked to be surging to an unlikely victory as he climbed to 14 under and into the outright lead with three holes remaining, but he played his tee shot out of bounds on the par-4 seventh — after starting his round on the 10th — and was forced to settle for a triple bogey that ended his hopes. Scott tied for fourth at 11 under with England's Laurie Carter (68) and Scotland's Grant Forrest (68).

The tournament features men's and women's fields and is played at two venues, with the Lakes Golf Club the other. South Africa's Ashleigh Buhai held off a fast-closing Minjee Lee — Min Woo's sister — to become the first woman to win back-to-back Australian Open titles since five-time major champion Yani Tseng in 2011.

Buhai made 15 pars and three bogeys for a 75 to finish at 9-under 280 and one stroke ahead of Lee (69) in a nervy finish for the 34-year-old.

Lee, after trailing by four shots with five holes to play, cut Buhai's lead to one heading to the last hole after the 2022 Women's British Open champion found the water on the 17th. However, a two-putt par on No. 18 was enough for Buhai as Lee couldn't find a ninth birdie.

Two-time major winner Jiyai Shin of South Korea had a tough day with a 77 as she slipped out of contention and into a tie for third with compatriot Jenny Shin (77) at 4 under.

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