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Scheffler, Schauffele fancied in US Open at Pinehurst

Two-time Masters winner Scottie Scheffler, the world number one golfer from the United States, chases a third career major title at the US Open in Pinehurst (ANDY LYONS)
Two-time Masters winner Scottie Scheffler, the world number one golfer from the United States, chases a third career major title at the US Open in Pinehurst (ANDY LYONS)

World number one Scottie Scheffler and second-ranked Xander Schauffele, coming off his first major victory, are oddsmakers favorites in next week's US Open, golf's third major showdown of the year.

Pinehurst's sandscapes and wiregrass offer a unique challenge for the world's top golfers after a dramatic battle in May's PGA Championship at Valhalla, where Schauffele won and Masters winner Scheffler settled for sharing eighth after being arrested.

Police took Scheffler to jail after a traffic incident at the entrance to the course. All charged were eventually dropped, but not before a mug shot and emotional hours behind bars for the world's top golfer.

"A lot of the challenges in this game can only toughen me up and I feel like I'm in a great head space mentally," Scheffler said. "I'm excited about where my game is at."

Scheffler, third at last year's US Open and level second in 2022, has four wins and two runner-up efforts since February, but he's still trying to adopt the same mindset he had when he was struggling to qualify for US Opens.

"I still feel like the guy who was playing in the qualifiers to get in the US Open. I don't feel any different," Scheffler said.

"As far as going into the tournament, I'm preparing the exact same way I did five years ago. On my end, not much changes.

"Maybe I'm getting a bit more rest just with all the other stuff I have to deal with at a tournament versus before, but that rest is more helpful in me performing."

Schauffele birdied the last hole for a one-stroke victory over LIV Golf's Bryson DeChambeau to win the PGA at Valhalla, but says he hasn't really pondered what the breakthrough major triumph meant, not with more majors and defending Olympic gold in Paris ahead of him.

"In terms of golf, I didn't really look too much into reflecting. I was really happy but I was pretty motivated to get back to work," Schauffele said.

"Maybe I didn't give myself enough time to sit and really take it in. I was at home and I woke up one of the mornings and I looked at my wife and I said, 'It's great. Nothing feels different. Our life feels the same,' and that was a really nice feeling."

DeChambeau, the 2020 US Open winner and one of 12 LIV Golf players in the US Open field, took a look at the Pinehurst layout early this year.

"It's a special golf course," he said. "I went out and actually played it in early January. It was an awesome test.

"Got to see the way it looks, the way it feels, the way the greens roll, the slopes. I like that style of golf."

Unlike the typical US Open headache of dense rough, Pinehurst offers sandscapes around fairways and greens plus wiregrass in native areas to frustrate wayward shots.

"When other courses host a US Open, they typically make the rough taller," course superintendent John Jeffreys said. "We don't have any mown rough, but what we can do is add wiregrass."

Tiger Woods, a 15-time major winner who has struggled to walk 72 holes since a 2021 car crash, accepted a special invitation into the US Open, which he won in 2000, 2002 and 2008.

"Could not be more excited for the opportunity to compete in this year's US Open, especially at Pinehurst, a venue that means so much to the game," Woods said.

- 'Difficult to handle' -

American Denny Shute won the first major contested at Pinehurst at the 1936 PGA Championship while US Open titles at Pinehurst have gone to the late Payne Stewart in 1999, New Zealand's Michael Campbell in 2005 and Germany's Martin Kaymer in 2014.

Stewart took his last triumph at Pinehurst before dying four months later in a plane crash. Campbell never won another stroke-play event. Kaymer hasn't won since that major triumph a decade ago.

"If you would have told me... I'm not going to win a tournament from 2014 until 2024, I would have thought you were crazy," Kaymer said.

"But this is the reality and this is quite difficult for me to handle, that I haven't won since then."

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