U.S. Open field chasing Scottie Scheffler’s greatness

Viktor Hovland knows the hours are ticking on generous pin placement and soft greens with 100-degree weather expected by the second round of the U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2.

He also is one of the top players in the field who admits they’re looking up at World No. 1 Scottie Scheffler, a model of consistency with five tournament wins already this season.

Rory McIlroy describes Scheffler as relentless, playing 14 times with only one tournament finish outside the top-10.

“The fact that the only thing that kept him from winning a golf tournament was being thrown in a jail cell for an hour,” McIlroy joked of what was most impressive about Scheffler’s five-win season to date.

McIlroy is paired with Scheffler in the opening rounds at the U.S. Open in North Carolina this week, where nearly everyone in the field, including players who don’t see Scheffler every week, are doing their best to keep up.

“He is the gold standard right now,” Bryson DeChambeau said Tuesday. “And we’re all looking up to him going, All right, how do we get to that level?”

Xander Schauffele, winner of the PGA Championship on May 19, is just one spot behind Scheffler in the Official World Golf Ranking, but on Tuesday made the gap sound like a mountain to conquer. Scheffler has 16.4083 average points in 46 events, and Schauffele has 375.32636 in 43 events.

“I think I need some more work to — I obviously believe I can, but Scottie is doing incredible things,” Schauffele said. “Every week we play, he seems to build a bigger lead, and somehow make the mountain even taller for all of us to climb. 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. I believe I can do it, but it’s going to take some time.”

All of the compliments show Scheffler that the other players on tour can be both competitors and friends.

“Well, yeah, I think it’s nice to hear a little bit of good things from my peers because I think we all try to bust each other up at times when we’re out there playing and competing,” Scheffler said Tuesday. “I think that’s part of the friendship bond, is you want to mess with your buddies, so to hear some compliments every now and then is definitely nice.”

Hovland said he left the PGA Championship encouraged that he had a chance to win a major championship without his best game. Rather than studying whether he missed an opportunity, Hovland was energized by contending and a contrasting positive feeling compared to not wanting to show up at the Masters in April because of the state of his game.

“Optimally, you don’t want to think about technique when you’re out here playing the game of golf,” Hovland said. “You want to be on a trajectory that makes you want to improve all the time and also play the best you can right now.”

Hovland said he will stick with an approach of staying aggressive off the tee and being more conservative with his approach because of the challenged domed greens and downright wicked pin placements expected this week.

“This is a really cool design. Off the tee there are some narrow fairways, generous enough,” Hovland said. “I think visually it looks really cool off the tee. I’m just a really big fan of greens that are kind of raised up and rolls off the sides. In some spots, some of the pin locations look a little bit suspect, so we’ll see how that works out. There’s a value in hitting greens this week.”

Jon Rahm said Tuesday morning before withdrawing because of a left foot injury that what Scheffler has accomplished is “quite incredible.”

“When you start getting compared to Tiger (Woods) and things that Tiger has done, that’s when you know it’s quite special,” said Rahm, the 2021 U.S. Open winner at Torrey Pines and the 2023 Masters champion. “As a competitor, it’s an added motivation to see somebody doing so well. That’s what we all strive for. As a golf fan, it’s absolutely incredible to watch.”

Hovland said even the best from those chasing Scheffler isn’t always enough because of his pattern of consistency.

“We can play well and compete against him when we’re playing well,” Hovland said. “But he’s bringing that level of consistency every single week. His average week is just really, really good. Definitely makes me work harder and motivates me to get better.

“If he had holes in his game, he wouldn’t perform as he would. He hits it very straight. Very reliable. It’s not about how good the good shots are but he’s playing a game where his bad shots are still good. He’s still in play. There is no big miss. When you couple that with a really special short game, it’s easier to play the game of golf.”

–Field Level Media