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    U.S. Open: Scottie Scheffler brushes off being a ‘target’; Jon Rahm (foot) withdraws
    • June 12, 2024

    By DOUG FERGUSON AP Golf Writer

    PINEHURST, N.C. — Scottie Scheffler took two minutes to celebrate a big win at the Memorial, and then it was on to the next challenge – even though the next one is among the biggest in golf.

    He arrived at Pinehurst No. 2 for the U.S. Open wearing a target he has had on since he began his latest tear that left no doubt who’s the best in golf right now. Scheffler has won five of his last eight tournamentsthe Masters, The Players Championship and three of the PGA Tour’s “signature” events with the strongest fields.

    The gap between Scheffler and everyone else in the world ranking is at a margin not seen since the peak years of Tiger Woods.

    “Every week we play, he seems to build a bigger lead, and somehow make the mountain even taller for all of us to climb,” PGA champion Xander Schauffele said Tuesday. “That’s all he’s been doing, and hats off to him for being so consistent and playing at such a high level for such a long time.”

    For Scheffler, it all goes back to the hats.

    In his eyes, his collection of worn, sweaty, grungy, disgusting hats he keeps in the gym at his home in Dallas is what reminds him of how he got there.

    “When I was a kid and I got a cool hat, I would wear it the whole summer and I would sweat through the hat,” Scheffler said. “And they’re just disgusting and gross and I hang ’em in my gym. So when I’m back there working out, I remind myself that just because I got to where I am now, it wasn’t just because it happened.

    “I remember all the work that I put in, all the balls that I hit, all the amount of time I spent out there sweating in the sun and putting in the time and the effort in order to become good.”

    No, this didn’t happen overnight. It just seems that way.

    So many players heaped so much praise on Scheffler and what he has done the last two years and particularly the last two months. It reminded him in a way of being picked for his first Ryder Cup team, and the confidence he was shown before he had won on the PGA Tour.

    This is more about awe.

    “Undoubtedly the best player in the world at the minute by a long way,” Rory McIlroy said. “It’s up to us to try to get to his level.”

    It hasn’t always been this easy for Scheffler, and it still feels like hard work to him. His putting got so far out of whack last year that he brought on English putting coach Phil Kenyon to help work his way out of the problems.

    He is coping with being a father – his first child, Bennett, was born just over a month ago. Scheffler is getting wearying talking about his arrest and brief jail time before the second round of the PGA Championship last month (he still shot 66) over charges he wasn’t following police directions. The charges were dropped. He tied for eighth.

    And he presses on, driven by the sheer joy of competition, and it must be even more fun when he leaves with the trophy.

    But the target on his back is one that he doesn’t see, and he acts like it’s not there.

    “When we start the tournament week, we’re all at even par and it’s not like anybody is out there playing defense,” Scheffler said.

    He will be in the U.S. Open’s traditional group of the top three players in the world on Thursday, putting him with Schauffele (No. 2) and McIlroy (No. 3).

    “They’re not going to be saying weird stuff to me out on the golf course or trying to block my putt from going in the hole,” he said. “We all kind of got to go out there and play our game. As far as a target on my back, even if there was, there’s really not much we can do in the game of golf. Most of it is against the golf course and playing against yourself.”

    Pinehurst No. 2 figures to be the real target this week for Scheffler and everyone else. Wyndham Clark, the defending champion, was concerned when he arrived that the domed greens – a Donald Ross signature – already were firm and scary.

    The field no longer includes former Masters champion Jon Rahm, the last player to occupy the No. 1 ranking before Scheffler took over. He withdrew on Tuesday.

    Rahm developed an infection in the toes of his left foot last week, had to withdraw from a LIV Golf event in Houston and decided it wasn’t worth the risk of affecting his swing or causing another injury by playing.

    Before departing, Rahm joined the chorus of players amazed at Scheffler’s level of play.

    “Every year or every so many years, there’s been great ball strikers that come up,” Rahm said. “But when you start getting compared to Tiger and things that Tiger has done, that’s when you know you are in a level that is quite special.”

    He noted Scheffler winning five times before the U.S. Open, a feat not achieved in 44 years. Rahm also noted where Scheffler has won – Augusta National, TPC Sawgrass, Bay Hill, Muirfield Village, Harbour Town.

    “You’re basically a Tiger Woods season,” he said. “It’s fantastic to see.”

    Rahm, a past Masters champion, first announced his decision to withdraw in a social media post. He says he consulted “numerous doctors” and his team and felt this was best in the long run for his golf.

    “To say I’m disappointed is a massive understatement!” Rahm posted on X. “Hopefully I’ll be back in action as soon as possible.”

    Rahm, winless since his 2023 victory in the Masters, had finished in the top 10 at every LIV Golf event until having to withdraw after six holes of the second round last week in Houston because of the pain in his foot.

    He arrived at Pinehurst No. 2 wearing a sandal on the foot, hopeful that antibiotics would allow for it to heal in time for Thursday’s opening round. He never saw the golf course, although he played it a few weeks ago in advance of the U.S. Open.

    While he did not say what the doctors told him, Rahm could have waited until Thursday afternoon before deciding whether to play. He was to tee off at 1:36 p.m. in the first round.


    Viktor Hovland has a renewed confidence entering the U.S. Open that he can compete – and possibly win – his first major championship after a morale-boosting third-place finish at the PGA Championship last month.

    He said Tuesday that’s a “night and day” difference from two months ago, when he missed the cut at the Masters after a disastrous second-round 81 at Augusta National.

    “I was pretty miserable leaving the Masters,” Hovland said. “I think that’s just one of those things where you kind of have to hit whatever rock bottom … because that’s when you pull yourself out of it and make some decisions to course correct.”

    He appears to have put his slump behind him.

    After the Masters, the 26-year-old Norwegian shot a final-round 69 at Quail Hollow to finish tied for 24th, then carried that small bit of momentum over to Valhalla, where posted a 66 in each of the final three rounds to finish at 18-under 266, three shots behind winner Xander Schauffele.

    He had a chance to pull into a tie for the lead but missed a 10-foot birdie putt on the 71st hole.

    Still, he chose to walk away thinking about the positives, especially considering he didn’t feel entering the PGA that his game was good enough to contend. He tied for 15th in the Memorial last week before arriving at Pinehurst No. 2.

    “The context of not really wanting to show up at a golf tournament because I just knew it wasn’t good enough, to, wow, I actually just had a chance to win a major championship without my best stuff,” Hovland said. “Yes, you don’t get endless amounts of opportunities to win major championships, so obviously when you’re in the heat of the moment, you want to take advantage of those. But at the end of the day I’m just happy that I’m playing better.”


    When Martin Kaymer began planning his trip to Pinehurst, he made sure to reserve the same room at the same hotel where he stayed 10 years ago, when he won the U.S. Open by eight shots.

    “I don’t know if it helps,” the 39-year-old Kaymer said. “It cannot hurt, I guess. I’m a little bit superstitious when it comes down to that. I think, regardless, it’s going to be a really nice week.”

    Kaymer said the course has changed a lot since 2014, when he blew away the field by relying, in part, on his mastery of the “Texas wedge” – aka the putter – when he missed the turtleback greens of Donald Ross’ famed design.

    “To be honest, I was a little bit overwhelmed this morning when I played the first four or five holes,” Kaymer said after Tuesday’s practice round. “I said to my caddie, ‘Was it that hard 10 years ago? Was it that difficult to hit the greens in the first place and then make the up-and-downs?’”


    Bryson DeChambeau is known for his enormous drives, but he knows it will be prudent at times to leave the driver in the bag at Pinehurst, a course that calls for pinpoint approach shots.

    “It stinks hitting a 6-iron off the tee compared to a driver, but sometimes you’ve got to do it and you’ve got to make the right decision for shooting the lowest score out here,” DeChambeau said.

    He pointed to the par-4 third as one hole that could tempt him.

    “I may go for it – I don’t know, you never know with me,” DeChambeau said. “Certainly on the tee box if it’s downwind I’ll give it a go, probably. But maybe just hit a 6-iron out there, or 7. Hitting an iron out there and playing some very strategic golf is certainly something you have to do on this golf course to compete and win.”


    Grayson Murray, a PGA Tour player and Raleigh native who died on May 25, was memorialized with a plaque inside the players’ locker room at Pinehurst that read, “The USGA remembers Grayson and pays tribute to the playing accomplishments that merited his place in the 124th U.S. Open Championship.”

    The message added “Be kind to one another,” a request his mother made after revealing that Murray had taken his own life.

    Murray died one day after he withdrew from the second round of the Charles Schwab Challenge at Colonial. He won in Hawaii in January and had already qualified for the U.S. Open.

    AP sports writer Steve Reed contributed to this story.

    ​ Orange County Register