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Pinehurst conditions ‘no joke’ for U.S. Open hopefuls

USA TODAY
                                Scottie Scheffler speaks to the media during a press conference at the U.S. Open golf tournament at Pinehurst No. 2 on Tuesday.
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USA TODAY

Scottie Scheffler speaks to the media during a press conference at the U.S. Open golf tournament at Pinehurst No. 2 on Tuesday.

Scottie Scheffler has conquered just about everything in sight as the world’s No. 1 golfer.

This week there’s a different type of assignment as he attempts to build on his stellar season at the U.S. Open at famed Pinehurst No. 2.

“It’s extremely challenging,” Scheffler said. “I don’t really think they have to do too much to trick it up with the way the greens are if they want the scores to be high. So it should be a good test and a fun week.”

The first round begins Thursday, where long rounds in some sun-splashed heat are expected in Pinehurst, N.C. As much as the course offers certain potential pitfalls, this could be an endurance test.

Scheffler, who’s coming off Sunday’s victory in the Memorial Tournament, has the attention of golfers and spectators. He has won five times on the PGA Tour since the beginning of March.

“To play this well for this amount of time, (it has) been a couple years where he’s for sure the guy to beat every week,” said Webb Simpson, the 2012 U.S. Open champion. “It’s fun to watch. I don’t see any reason that he’s going to slow down anytime soon.”

Scheffler said patience will be important. That might hold true as well for Wyndham Clark, who’s the defending champion at a major for the first time.

“I’m trying to gain some momentum for the rest of the season,” Clark said. “I know that maybe sounds like low expectations for the week, but honestly I’d love to just gain some momentum.”

Tiger Woods last won the U.S. Open in 2008 at Torrey Pines in California. Just contending this week would be a significant step considering he hasn’t played in the tournament since 2020.

“I feel like I have the strength to be able to do it,” Woods said. “It’s just a matter of doing it.”

In two previous U.S. Open outings in Pinehurst, Woods tied for third place in 1999 and was the runner-up in 2005.

This is the fourth time the U.S. Open will be contested in Pinehurst. After Payne Stewart’s memorable victory in 1999, international golfers have won — New Zealand’s Michael Campbell in 2005 and Germany’s Martin Kaymer in 2014.

A repeat won’t come easy for Kaymer.

“I feel like this week is quite difficult to get it in that circle around the hole, that 8- to 10-foot circle,” Kaymer said. “That was the key, I think, to my success.”

Kaymer will tee off at 1:47 p.m. Thursday — or more than seven hours after the day’s first group.

The greens could be getting as much attention as any of the golfers in the early rounds.

“If they get any firmer and faster, the greens, they’d be borderline,” Clark said. “They already are borderline.”

Woods said the course setup, not to mention the switch from bentgrass to Bermuda greens in advance of the 2014 tournament, makes Pinehurst No. 2 a different type of challenge. He hadn’t been on the grounds since the 2005 tournament.

“The grain is going to play a big part of it,” Woods said. “The last few days playing practice rounds, we’ve putted off a lot of greens. It depends how severe the USGA wants to make this and how close they want to get us up to those sides.”

Bryson DeChambeau, the 2020 U.S. Open winner, will be playing Pinehurst No. 2 for the first time as a professional. So that might mean a more conservative and calculated approach for one of golf’s big hitters.

“Pinehurst is no joke,” DeChambeau said. “It’s a lot of boring golf, but I’ll try to do my best to show the crowd some fun drives and some hopefully long made putts.”

This week’s tournament means plenty to the entrants, particularly North Carolinians such as Simpson. He needed to advance through a qualifier last week to make the field this time.

“This is a golf course that I feel like I know really well,” Simpson said. “I feel comfortable on it. I just didn’t want to miss the U.S. Open in my backyard.”

The tournament will be without Spain’s Jon Rahm, who withdrew Tuesday. The tournament’s 2021 champion was in Pinehurst before concluding that a foot/toe ailment was too severe to allow him to compete.

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