Scheffler goes without a birdie and narrowly avoids early exit from US Open


PINEHURST, N.C. (AP) — Scottie Scheffler chose iron off the tee for position Friday in the U.S. Open and sent it well right of the fairway toward trouble, whether that was a bunker or the dusty dunes or the native plants dotting the landscape.

“What are you DOING?” he said to himself as he watched the ball sail offline.

Not playing great golf would have been one answer if he wanted one.

Pinehurst No. 2 has been getting the best of the No. 1 player in the world. Scheffler had his first birdie-free round in just over two years, a 4-over 74 that left him doubtful he would be back for the weekend.

He barely made it, his 5-over 145 making the cut on the number and leaving him 10 shots behind Ludvig Aberg of Sweden.

“Today I just couldn’t get the putts to fall,” Scheffler said. “This golf course can be unpredictable at times, and maybe it got the better of me the last couple days. I’ll sit down and think about where we’re going and figure it out.”

So much more was expected of Scheffler for so many reasons. He was coming off his fifth victory of the year at the Memorial, another tough test, making him the first player since Tom Watson in 1980 to win five times on the PGA Tour before the U.S. Open.

He had only finished out of the top 10 once this year, and that was a tie for 17th at The American Express in the California desert.

Most of the damage came on one hole, the par-5 fifth, among the easiest at Pinehurst No. 2. Scheffler was in the fairway and some 10 yards away from having a decent look at eagle. Instead, his ball tumbled off the crowned green to the left into a sandy patch with wiregrass bushes, facing a shot up a steep hill to a short pin.

He would have preferred a low runner, except he felt a bush was in his path, so he tried to bump it into the hill. It came up woefully short and rolled back into the sandy area. Then, he blasted it up and over the green. He hit is weakest chip of the day — maybe the year — to 15 feet. And then he missed the putt and ended up with a double bogey.

“Probably on any other golf course, if I hit those two shots — driver, 3-wood — into a green on a par 5, I probably have a pretty good look at birdie,” Scheffler said. “I’m not going to be walking off with a 7. Just unfortunate place for me to put myself.”

It wasn’t just that hole. Scheffler didn’t convert reasonable birdies on three holes early, and he had a tee shot come back off the green on the par-3 15th. He chipped up just beyond 15 feet and thought his par putt was good all the way until it grazed the edge.

Scheffler flipped his putter in the air in disbelief — a common scene in this aggravating game, except he didn’t even attempt to catch it, letting it fall to the turf.

Three holes later, his driver sailed right on the 18th as he was making the turn, and Scheffler smashed the tee in the ground in disgust as it sailed into the unknown. Those kind of shots are easily found. It’s just that players have no idea what kind of break they’re going to get — clean lie, soft lie, between wiregrass bushes or right behind them. It gets old.

“I think this golf course is fun to play. It’s exciting,” Scheffler said. “The only aspect of it I don’t really love is the unpredictability of the native areas. I would have preferred for it to be Bermuda rough, but I’m not a course designer.

“My job is to not hit it in there as often as I did this week.”

It also left him wondering about his preparation. Winning can be draining, and Scheffler said he was feeling it after a tough win at Muirfield Village. He prefers not to play the week before a major, but the Memorial is a tough one to miss, not only as a $20 million signature event, but due to Jack Nicklaus creating and hosting the tournament.

“It definitely was a little bit of fatigue,” he said.

Give him a mulligan, and Scheffler said he might have come to Pinehurst No. 2 before he headed to Ohio for the Memorial. He says he might not have been as prepared as he prefers when he stepped onto the first tee Thursday afternoon.

But was it fun?

“Not really,” Scheffler said. “Playing poor golf is not fun. But I like the challenging aspect of it.”

And now he gets two more days of it.


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