US Open favourite and the Tiger Woods comparison - can anyone stop relentless Scottie Scheffler?

Golf correspondent Martin Dempster sets the scene for the season’s third major

They’ve been watering the greens at Pinehurst in North Carolina, where it’s set to get toasty later in the week. Trying to douse Scottie Scheffler in the 124th US Open, though, is going to be much more difficult for his rivals in the penultimate major of the season.

“The fact that the only thing that took him from winning a golf tournament was going into a jail cell for an hour,” said Rory McIlroy in reply to being asked what he felt had been most impressive about Scheffler’s stunning run of form this year and, though that may have been uttered in a jocular tone, it was probably true.

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Being arrested over a motoring matter - the charges were subsequently dropped - before his second round in last month’s PGA Championship at Valhalla certainly contributed to Scheffler being knocked out of his stride, but not for long. He’s now won five times this season and all of them have been in big events - The Players Championship, Arnold Palmer Invitational, The Masters, RBC Heritage and, most recently, the Memorial Tournament.

World No 1 Scottie Scheffler speaks to the media in the build up to the US Open at Pinehurst Resort in North Carolina. Picture: Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images.World No 1 Scottie Scheffler speaks to the media in the build up to the US Open at Pinehurst Resort in North Carolina. Picture: Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images.
World No 1 Scottie Scheffler speaks to the media in the build up to the US Open at Pinehurst Resort in North Carolina. Picture: Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images.

“It's quite incredible to see what he's been able to accomplish,” observed Jon Rahm, who presented Scheffler with his second Green Jacket in three years at Augusta National in April. “Every year or every so years, there's been great ball strikers that come up. But, when you start getting compared to Tiger [Woods] and things that Tiger has done, that's when you know you are at a level that is quite special.”

It’s still way too early to suggest that Scheffler can go on to dominate the game for a prolonged period like Woods did when you almost went into every single event thinking the outcome was inevitable, but there’s no denying that the 27-year-old - an extremely genuine and likeable individual - has earned the lavish praise being heaped on him by his peers at the moment.

“Relentless,” said McIlroy of the word that comes to mind for him with Scheffler, who is the first player to win five times in a season on the PGA Tour before the US Open since Tom Watson in 1980. “It seems like every time he shows up, he is the guy to beat, and deservedly so. Undoubtedly the best player in the world at the minute by a long way. It's up to us to try to get to his level.”

McIlroy, back in 2014, was the last player to win a PGA Tour event one week then follow it up straight away with a major triumph while it’s been five years - Brooks Koepka having done the trick - since someone claimed multiple majors in the same season. It should also be noted that the last five winners of this event - Gary Woodland (2019), Bryson DeChambeau (2020), Rahm (2021), Matt Fitzpatrick (2022) and Wyndham Clark (2023) - were all first-time major champions.

Rory McIlroy, the 2011 winner, is heading into this week's US Open on the back of five straight top-ten finishes in the USGA event. Picture: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images.Rory McIlroy, the 2011 winner, is heading into this week's US Open on the back of five straight top-ten finishes in the USGA event. Picture: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images.
Rory McIlroy, the 2011 winner, is heading into this week's US Open on the back of five straight top-ten finishes in the USGA event. Picture: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images.

Scheffler, therefore, has history to overcome in addition to a testing golf course, but, as has been the case from the start of his meteoric rise in the game just over two years ago, the man himself is unfazed about all the fuss about him. “I still don't feel like there's much of a target on my back,” he insisted. “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.

“I try not to think about the past. I try not to think about the future. I try to live in the present. That's how I've always been. When I'm home, I try to be the best husband and father I can be, and when I'm out here, I try to be the best golfer I can be. I try not to overthink things, I try to live one moment at a time and soak it all up because you never know how long it's going to last. Just try and soak up the good times when you can and fight through the bad.”

This week’s event marks the 1,000th championship to be staged by the USGA. It’s the fourth US Open to be held at Pinehurst, where Payne Stewart (one under)won the first edition in 1999 before Michael Campbell (par) and Martin Kaymer (nine under) then came out on top in 2005 and 2014 respectively. The No 2 Course has been set up at 7,548 yards for this week’s test and will play to a par of 70.

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The field includes 14 past Open winners, with Kaymer heading a list of seven players who finished the top ten a decade ago, the others being Rickie Fowler (T2), Keegan Bradley (T4), Jason Day (T4), Dustin Johnson (T4), Brooks Koepka (T4) and Adam Scott (T9). The latter is back in North Carolina to make his 92nd consecutive major appearance.

With Rahm having announced his withdrawal on Tuesday due to a foot injury, DeChambeau heads an 11-strong LIV Golf contingent, which includes talented young Spaniards Eugenio Chacarra and David Puig after they both came through the qualifying process, as did Grant Forrest, who, on his debut in the tournament, is flying the Saltire along with new RBC Canadian Open champion, Bob MacIntyre.

After his Valhalla victory, Xander Schauffele is bidding to become the first player to win consecutive majors since Jordan Spieth in 2015 while McIlroy will certainly take confidence from being the only player in the field to finish in the top ten in this event in each of the last five years. As an aside, the 2011 winner is no longer seeking a divorce from his wife, Erica. “Over the past weeks, Erica and I have realised that our best future was as a family together,” he told The Guardian. “Thankfully, we have resolved our differences and look forward to a new beginning.”

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