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TOUGHEST TEST

Scheffler in top form heading into US Open at Pinehurst ahead of a strong chasing pack

Scheffler in top form heading into US Open at Pinehurst ahead of a strong chasing pack
Scottie Scheffler has won five tournaments this year, including the Masters. His his hot favourite to win the US Open this week. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Erik S Lesser)

World No 1 Scottie Scheffler is the odds-on favourite to win the US Open – the season’s third major – in North Carolina this week.

Scottie Scheffler, freed of charges from his arrest outside the PGA Championship last month, enters the US Open at Pinehurst No 2 in North Carolina this week as the clear favourite, while Xander Schauffele hopes to build on his major breakthrough.

In addition to building on an already remarkable year on the golf course, Scheffler will undoubtedly be hoping this week goes smoother than his time in Louisville, Kentucky last month. He was arrested before the second round of the PGA Championship.

Thankfully for Scheffler he can focus entirely on golf as all charges from the incident in Louisville were dropped after what a prosecutor agreed was a misunderstanding between the world’s top-ranked golfer and an officer directing traffic.

The 27-year-old Scheffler, who won the Memorial Tournament on Sunday, counts the Masters among his five titles this year on the PGA Tour where he has finished outside the top 10 just once in 13 events and cemented himself as the pre-eminent force in men’s golf.

US Open

Xander Schauffele, who made his major breakthrough at last month’s PGA Championship, is in good form going into the US Open. (Photo: Andy Lyons / Getty Images)

And while Scheffler has never played Pinehurst No 2 he most certainly has a game suitable for a US Open – considered the toughest test in golf – having finished one shot back of the winner in 2022 and solo third in 2023 when he was three back.

“It’s a good place to be,” Scheffler said after holding on to win the Memorial by a shot on Sunday. “I like how my game’s feeling right now. I feel like I’ve been playing some good golf. It’s great to see some results too and some wins.

“Out here the margins are so small between winning and losing. It’s a putt or a shot here or there. Fortunately, today I was able to hit the shots when I needed to and hopefully going into next week I’m going to stick to my game plan and prepare the way I usually would and get ready to go out and compete again on Thursday.”

Challengers

But Scheffler will face plenty of challengers, perhaps none greater than newly minted major winner Schauffele who is riding high after winning the PGA Championship where his 21-under total marked the lowest score to par in major history.

Schauffele has six top-10 US Open finishes but enters this one with a lot less baggage after silencing his doubters by shedding the unofficial title of “best current player to never win a major” that had followed him around for years.

Scottie Scheffler chips to the fifth green during a practice round before the US Open at Pinehurst Resort in North Carolina on 10 June 2024. (Photo: Ross Kinnaird / Getty Images)

Among the other top contenders are Northern Irishman Rory McIlroy, who has top-10 finishes in each of his past five US Open appearances and is desperately looking to end his 10-year major drought.

McIlroy failed to crack the top 10 at either of the year’s first two majors and enters the US Open fresh off a share of 15th place at the Memorial Tournament.

Former champion Bryson DeChambeau, one of 12 LIV Golf players in the 156-player field this week, will be eager to return to the major stage on the heels of a runner-up finish at the PGA Championship with what he later called his “B” game.

DeChambeau, whose length off the tee will certainly be an asset at Pinehurst, provided plenty of great theatre during an electric final round at the PGA Championship where he walked away a fan favourite.

Another name to watch will be Brooks Koepka, who has become synonymous with success at major championships but took a step back this year as the five-time major winner finished outside the top 25 at the Masters and PGA Championship.

Tiger Woods, whose 15 major championships include three US Open titles, accepted a special invitation to compete this week in what will be his fourth event of the year and first since the PGA Championship where he missed the cut by eight shots.

Rory McIlroy plays his shot from the 18th tee during the third round of the Memorial Tournament presented by Workday at Muirfield Village Golf Club in Dublin, Ohio, on8  June 2024. (Photo: Andy Lyons / Getty Images)

Phil Mickelson, who became golf’s oldest champion when he won the PGA Championship at 50, will once again be hoping to turn back the clock and complete the career Grand Slam with a win on Sunday, which is also his 54th birthday.

The six-time major champion has been a runner-up at the US Open a record six times and has missed the cut the past two years.

This year marks the first US Open held at Pinehurst since 2014 when Germany’s Martin Kaymer won by eight strokes.

Defending champion

Wyndham Clark is frustrated with the state of his game and is just looking to produce four solid rounds when he starts his US Open defence this week.

The American was the major tournament’s surprise winner last year when he held off McIlroy on the back nine for a one-stroke victory at the Los Angeles Country Club.

Wyndham Clark after winning the 123rd US Open at the Los Angeles Country Club on 18 June 2023. (Photo: Ross Kinnaird / Getty Images)

Despite winning February’s Pebble Beach Pro-Am, which was cut short after 54 holes due to weather, he is not brimming with confidence following missed cuts in three of his past five starts including the Masters and PGA Championship.

“I haven’t been playing my best golf,” Clark told reporters on Monday.

“It’s been kind of a tough stretch these last few weeks. Really I’m trying to gain some momentum for the rest of the season. I know that maybe sounds like low expectations for the week, but honestly I’d love to just gain some momentum.

“I’d really like to hit some good shots, have some really good up and downs, make some key putts throughout the week, and play four solid rounds.”

Rory McIlroy looks on from the first tee during the final round of the Memorial Tournament presented by Workday at Muirfield Village Golf Club in Dublin, Ohio, on 9 June 2024. (Photo: Andy Lyons / Getty Images)

He said his frustration level is higher than normal in part because the excellent form he has in practice has not shown up when he needs it most.

“It’s kind of a bummer,” he said.

“It’s the great thing about golf: there’s always another week. I’ve got to believe that good golf is around the corner.”

The US Open is known as golf’s toughest test and the speedy greens at Pinehurst No 2 will challenge even the world’s best, Clark said after Monday’s practice round.

“The greens are extremely fast and penal. You hit it on the green, the hole is not done. I was just amazed how fast the greens are,” he said.

“If they get any firmer and faster they’d be borderline. They already are borderline.” Reuters/DM

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