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6 questions heading into the 124th U.S. Open

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While the PGA TOUR-LIV Golf rivalry has caused a great divide in the week-to-week action on either circuit, one positive to come from the split is the heightened importance of major championships.

That anticipation is real this week at Pinehurst as the iconic layout hosts the U.S. Open for the fourth time. All the top players are back in action, with every man in the field wondering how he can stop the red-hot Scottie Scheffler from winning his second major - and sixth tournament - of the season.

In honor of Scheffler's quest, here are six questions to be answered this week at the 124th U.S. Open.

Can anybody stop Scottie?

Unless there's an overzealous police officer on traffic duty, the answer here is likely no. Scheffler's victory at Memorial on Sunday was already his fifth this year, and it continued an outrageous show of form spanning the last three months.

  • Arnold Palmer Invitational: Win
  • The Players: Win
  • Houston Open: T-2nd
  • Masters: Win
  • RBC Heritage: Win
  • PGA Championship: T-8th (was arrested morning of Round 2)
  • Charles Schwab Challenge: T-2nd
  • Memorial: Win

The only time Scheffler hasn't won or finished runner-up at a golf tournament since February was when he spent the morning of Round 2 in a Louisville jail cell - and he still finished inside the top 10. His history at the U.S. Open also suggests a win is coming: He's finished seventh, second and third in the last three years. Oddsmakers agree, setting him as just a 3-1 favorite to win at Pinehurst.

There isn't a golf course on the planet that scares Scheffler right now - and Pinehurst, despite the test it presents, should be no exception.

Will Pinehurst show its teeth?

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Three U.S. Opens have previously been played at Pinehurst No. 2, with 468 players teeing it up over that stretch. Only four - Payne Stewart in 1999 and Martin Kaymer, Rickie Fowler and Erik Compton in 2014 have finished under par for 72 holes.

The iconic layout has been a beast for players to deal with and projects to play just as tough this time around, with firm and fast conditions expected. It'll be a stark contrast to the soggy Valhalla track that got torched by the field en route to Xander Schauffele's winning score of 21-under last month.

Previous stops at Pinehurst yielded two very close results and one blowout in a historic performance. Stewart claimed a one-shot victory over Phil Mickelson with a dramatic par on 18, while Michael Campbell outlasted Tiger Woods by two to win at even par in 2005. Kaymer turned in a performance for the ages, shooting 9-under over 72 holes, to win by eight shots in 2014. That performance was even more stunning considering only two other players broke par that week.

However, those tournaments were played when the U.S. Open was a gruelling test on the annual calendar. That's since changed, with an average score of 8-under winning the event for the last five years. Will the return to the notoriously tough Pinehurst affect that trend?

Can Rory keep U.S. Open form?

Rory McIlroy's major drought is now at ten years - he hasn't hoisted one of golf's biggest trophies since the 2014 PGA Championship. However, the 35-year-old can use his recent U.S. Open record to remain confident. Following his victory in 2011, McIlroy missed four cuts over his next seven U.S. Opens and only had one top-10 finish to show for it. He clearly changed his approach to the event after 2018: He's reeled off five straight top-10 U.S. Open finishes, highlighted by last year's runner-up showing behind Wyndham Clark.

  • 2019: T-9th
  • 2020: T-8th
  • 2021: T-7th
  • 2022: T-5th
  • 2023: 2nd

Keeping that trend alive will be a significant challenge for McIlroy, as the four-time major winner has thrived on easier layouts and struggled on the tougher tests throughout his career. McIlroy has over 35 professional wins on the PGA TOUR and DP World Tour, and he finished at least 10-under for the week in each one. It's unlikely that'll happen at Pinehurst, so whether McIlroy can win without needing to go low will be fascinating to watch.

What does Bryson have planned for an encore?

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Golf's greatest showman hasn't won either of the season's first two majors, but nobody has entertained over that stretch like Bryson DeChambeau. He held the opening-round lead at Augusta with a sizzling 65 and followed that up with an insane hole-out from the 18th fairway to close his third round on Saturday. The legend only grew at Valhalla, as another Saturday hole-out on the 18th hole set him up for an epic Sunday. The 30-year-old didn't disappoint with a final-round charge topped by a birdie on No. 18 to hold the clubhouse lead. Schauffele would eventually clip him by one with a birdie to win the PGA Championship, but it's safe to say no golfer has been a bigger box-office hit in majors this year than DeChambeau.

On the surface, Pinehurst doesn't project like a strong course fit for DeChambeau - but neither did Augusta. This is the same man who recently played a round on his YouTube Channel wearing plus fours and using hickory clubs - a clothing choice that proved successful for Stewart in 1999 at Pinehurst.

Whether he contends or not, it's probably a safe bet DeChambeau will be must-watch television amongst the trees in North Carolina this week.

Does Tiger have anything in the tank?

Woods has long said he wouldn't be a ceremonial golfer, making this week at Pinehurst very important for the 15-time major winner. Any major Woods plays in lately usually features an early-week press conference where he says he can still hit the shots to compete but lacks the competitive reps he normally would have. Unfortunately, he's been unable to overcome that issue since his 2021 car accident.

Outside of the Masters, Woods has yet to play four rounds at a major championship since his comeback. After breaking the record for most consecutive Masters cuts made in April, Woods fired rounds of 82 and 77 to finish last among those who made the weekend. He followed that up with rounds of 72 and 77 to miss the cut at Valhalla. That puts Woods at 24-over in his last four rounds of professional golf.

While he has a strong competitive history at Pinehurst, it's among the most precise golf courses in the world - which shouldn't appeal to someone lacking reps. It's difficult to see Woods competing for a win this week, but we learned long ago not to count the 48-year-old out. Perhaps returning to a familiar site will bring the best out of Woods.

What's going on with Rahm?

Jon Rahm has been very consistent in his first seven LIV Golf starts, finishing 10th or better in each of them. However, considering that there are only 54 players in the field and he's yet to post a victory, those results don't quite hold the same weight. He's also posted his worst career Masters finish and missed the cut at the PGA Championship in his first two majors as a member of LIV Golf.

That's enough to question where Rahm's game is heading to Pinehurst, but adding in his withdrawal from LIV Houston because of a foot issue makes him arguably the field's most unpredictable top player.

Another poor major finish for Rahm will further validate the concern over whether the move to LIV Golf was the right call for his game. On the other hand, a strong showing - or potentially a second U.S. Open title - will go a long way toward erasing those.

*Editors note: Rahm withdrew from the U.S. Open late Tuesday due to his foot injury

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