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Column: Scheffler’s rise leads to incomplete grade on Smith

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Jordan Spieth can speak with authority about Scottie Scheffler’s remarkable run, except Spieth never liked that term when it came to the subject.

Spieth had won seven times in 13 months – two majors, one-of-four, world No. 1 and a FedEx Cup title – when he showed up in Kapalua to start 2016 and was asked what he had planned for an encore.

“Doesn’t an encore mean the show is over then?” he said.

Golf has a few hit shows, and for now Scheffler is headlining.

Her great game in windy conditions for a five-stroke victory in the Players Championship was his sixth title in the last 13 months. Scheffler has been No. 1 longer than anyone during that streak.

But that was just 12 days ago when Jon Rahm, with six wins in the last 13 months, opened with a 65 at Bay Hill and looked like no one could beat him. That may still be the case. Rahm never reached the second round of the Players Championship due to a stomach problem.

Rory McIlroy, who was also No. 1 this year, won on 2023 debut in Dubai. He has finished no worse than fourth in seven straight tournaments, including three wins.

All are part of a long list of players who have been on great runs, and as Spieth duly noted of Tiger Woods, “a guy who created a career out of a run and became the best of all time”.

The current roster is missing Cameron Smith.

He never gave himself the chance.

Even now, it’s hard to tell if Smith was on a radiator or had stamina.

He set a tied record in Kapalua to start last year. He won the Players Championship two months later by putting eight of his last nine holes. He shot 30 on the back nine at St. Andrews for his first major, one of tall fence towers in the history of the British Open.

And then he chose to step away from the toughest competition to cash in on the Saudi money and join LIV Golf. No one should blame the 29-year-old Australian for his decision, although it remains the most peculiar due to his youth and potential.

But for such a short sample – seven months – it’s unclear how long and at what temperature that flame would burn.

Smith won a 54-hole LIV event last summer in suburban Chicago. He celebrated a long-awaited return Down Under by winning the Australian PGA Championship. Otherwise, he hasn’t faced world-class competition in seven months.

The players were troublesome on many levels, mainly because Smith wasn’t there to defend his title. What resurfaced was a video of PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan at the presentation of the trophy last year.

“Cam doesn’t live far from here, and every time he parks his car on the main road, he’ll be greeted as a hero,” Monahan said that day.

Smith no longer has free access to TPC Sawgrass, or any TPC courses, as he was suspended by the PGA Tour. He was seen playing at The Yards, an executive course about a mile away in the first round. Such were the consequences of his choice.

He is financially ready for life. He returns to golf this week with the LIV event north of Tucson, Arizona. He could win. He could win a lot.

But what does that mean?

We have talked so much about new PGA Tour model have eight elite courses without a cup, because LIV Golf has no cup. But why rival circuits don’t look alike is because LIV only has 54 holes with the same 48 players – minus one or two substitutes – all year.

Scheffler beat 144 players at Sawgrass, the strongest field of the year. Rahm beat 156 players in the California desert and 120 players in Riviera.

Smith will earn his place four times a year in the majors. It will be his best chance, and really his only avenue, to stay relevant in the conversation of top players.

Until then, the focus will remain on Scheffler, Rahm and McIlroy. These are the current “Big Three” in golf, and that may change by the end of the year.

The show ends at some point, but maybe not for good.

McIlroy has fallen from the top to the top 10, and while he’s clearly on the rise, he still hasn’t won a major in nearly nine years.

Jason Day won eight times in 18 starts in 2015 and 2016 with no discernible weakness in his game. He started this year outside the top 100.

David Duval easily goes unnoticed as his top was crammed into a short window. He won 11 times in 34 tournaments over 18 months in 1997-99 and was among the few to reach No. 1 when Woods was at the top of his game.

Right now the focus is on Scheffler and his knack for beating the best.

“I want to win, and I think I’m excited when we get to the biggest tournaments and the best players are there,” Scheffler said. “And that’s a lot of fun for me because a player can compete with those guys.”

This pleasure also belonged to Smith. He will have his dose of competing with the best. Maybe it’s not often enough to know how good he could have been.


AP-golf: https://apnews.com/hub/golf And https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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