Scheffler the one to beat as world’s best prepare for tough Pinehurst test

Masters champion’s remarkable run of form means he’s an intimidating prospect for most of his rivals

Scottie Scheffler: the world number one is a five-time winner already this season, including the Masters and the Players. Photograph: Alex Slitz/Getty Images)

The man who has had everyone in the rear view mirror this season strolled by the clubhouse like someone on a mission.

Scottie Scheffler had his own golf bag hung over the shoulder and a trackman in hand, headed to the range for the final prep work and – again – with all eyes on him. Not just from spectators, but from his fellow players too.

This 124th US Open on a fast-running Pinehurst No.2 course, already baked and set to get firmer over the four championship days, brings with it the prospect of making some players look idiotic if the evidence of the practice days hold true.

“If they get any firmer and faster, the greens, I mean, they’d be borderline. They are already borderline,” said defending champion Wyndham Clark of greens that will play at 13½ on the stimpmeter, but with the difficulty further accentuated by seeking to hold approach shots to upended bowl surfaces with run-offs.


The No.2 course – a Donald Ross classic design – will provide a tough examination for one and all, especially given the weather forecast of hot, dry conditions that will likely see the grass turn from green to brown as the days progress and mother nature has her way in firming up the course.

Scheffler, the world number one, and a five-time winner already this season including the Masters and the Players, will be the one to beat – as he has been every time a scorecard has been in hand this year.

“I feel like he’s almost not getting the credit guys might have in the past, like Tiger Woods,” said Séamus Power of Scheffler’s dominance.

“When Tiger got on runs like this, it was like the world was ending . . . Scottie doesn’t seem to have any weaknesses. He’s got a remarkable short game and mentally [is so strong]. You see the stats he’s putting up and it’s amazing. Every type of course, too, and all sorts of different grasses. It’s impressive.”

Rory McIlroy – his personal life back on an even keel after he and wife Erica agreed to stop divorce proceedings – described Scheffler’s performances this season as “relentless.”

Rory McIlroy with coach Phil Kenyon during a practice round prior to the US Open at Pinehurst, North Carolina. Photograph: Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

As McIlroy, the world number three, who will form the marquee grouping for the opening two rounds along with Scheffler and Masters champion Xander Schauffele, added: “It seems like every time he shows up, he is the guy to beat and deservedly so . . . it’s up to us to try to get to his level.”

It is a course that will reward creativity, and that is an area of McIlroy’s game which has developed into a strength. He will need that short game artistry if the Northern Irishman’s barren spell, now a decade long, in the Majors is to be brought to an end and that special Payne Stewart flag on the 18th is to be claimed by his caddie Harry Diamond come Sunday, on the 25th anniversary of Stewart’s own US Open win.

Scheffler has been operating at a different level, with McIlroy quipping that the only time he underachieved – at the US PGA – was because he was put “in a jail cell for an hour,” a reference to the traffic incident outside Valhalla at the PGA.

If that episode is past history, albeit of the recent kind, Scheffler’s win in the Memorial extended a remarkable run – 1-2-8-1-1-2-1-1 – which has rightly seen him mentioned in the same breath as Woods in terms of dominance.

The challenge for Scheffler, and indeed the other 155 players in the field for this season’s third Major, is different this time. Where last year’s championship at Los Angeles Country Club saw Clark win with a 10-under-par total of 270, Pinehurst No.2 is constructed on sandy terrain with native areas, adorned with wire grass, off the fairways before players must find a way to keep the ball on greens which are upended and have steep run-offs.

Bryson DeChambeau: 'This is a unique test.' Photograph: Andrew Redington/Getty Images

When Martin Kaymer won in 2014, using his putter as a Texas wedge time and time again in getting up and down, only 70 per cent of the field hit fairways, and only 56 per cent then managed to find greens in regulation.

“This is a unique test,” said Bryson DeChambeau, who, of all the LIV players, has managed to take his A-game to the Majors with a tied-sixth finish at the Masters and a runner-up finish at the PGA.

“It’s not like most US Opens . . . Pinehurst is no joke, it’s a ball striker’s paradise. You have to hit it in the middle of the greens. And this is a Boo Weekley quote, ‘the centre of the green never moves’, so I’ll try to focus on that this week.”

Not just DeChambeau. That requirement to find greens with approach shots will require creative minds, which should bring a player like Collin Morikawa very much into the equation. And, if he has managed to heal the mental scars of his closing 85 in the Memorial, Shane Lowry too.

Or, perhaps, as Kaymer did in 2014, someone will emerge from the pack and simply run away from everyone.

On all the evidence, the chance of that someone being Scheffler is a strong one.

Philip Reid

Philip Reid

Philip Reid is Golf Correspondent of The Irish Times