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Chasing the best: Making a case for Scheffler's top U.S. Open challengers

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The overwhelming sentiment leading into the 124th U.S. Open is that it's Scottie Scheffler's to lose.

The confidence is warranted: Scheffler has won five of his last eight starts and, when he didn't win, he was either a runner-up or derailed by an early-morning visit to a Louisville jail cell.

Oddsmakers priced Scheffler at +300 to win his first U.S. Open - the shortest favorite at a major championship since Tiger Woods in 2009. Pinehurst No. 2 suits Scheffler's game perfectly, and there's a reasonable chance he wins by multiple shots.

However, his short odds also imply there's a 75% chance he won't win. There are plenty of world-class golfers hot on Scheffler's tail who can give the world No. 1 a run for his money.

Let's examine Scheffler's top five challengers and make a case for how they beat the best player in the world.

Xander Schauffele

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Schauffele, the most recent championship winner, is the tournament's second favorite at +1000. He ranks second on the PGA TOUR in strokes gained: total this season (he has a substantial lead over third-place Rory McIlroy) and is in the middle of the 13th-best peak performance stretch in the last 30 years, according to Data Golf (Scheffler's run is second behind only Tiger Woods' dominance in 2000).

His U.S. Open track record is amazing: Schauffele has played in seven U.S. Opens and has six top-10 finishes with no result worse than T14. He's undoubtedly playing the best golf of his career and, if the No. 1 player in the world doesn't win the U.S. Open, No. 2 is clearly the next most likely.

Rory McIlroy

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McIlroy has had some disappointing showings in his attempts to win a fifth major, but he's also come close more than once - most recently at last year's U.S. Open when he fell one shot shy of Wyndham Clark.

Like Schauffele, McIlroy has figured out how to play well at golf's toughest test. He's placed inside the top 10 in five straight U.S. Opens after a string of missed cuts in the late 2010s.

With Scheffler soaking up a ton of the attention, the spotlight seems to be off McIlroy, which could benefit him. He won the Wells Fargo Championship four weeks ago and tied for fourth at the Canadian Open at the end of May. If he continues to drive the ball well, he's one of few players that can overpower Pinehurst No. 2.

Collin Morikawa

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One of the toughest questions Pinehurst No. 2 asks players is how well can they hit their irons.

The easiest way to separate from the field this week will be by hitting greens in regulation to avoid navigating the difficult surroundings. A lot of average iron players will end up in similar spots, but the best ones will have total control of their ball and, as a result, have more birdie opportunities.

Scheffler is the best iron player in the world, but Morikawa is a close second.

Morikawa challenged Scheffler last week at the Memorial Tournament and has three straight top-five results, including a T3 finish at the Masters and T4 at the PGA Championship.

If anyone is going to put pressure on Scheffler in the final round, it's Morikawa. He can go toe-to-toe with Scheffler if his iron play is on point.

Brooks Koepka

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Koepka is the best major championship player of the post-Tiger generation. His five major titles mean he should be considered one of Scheffler's top challengers, though it's tough to know exactly how his current form stacks up to PGA TOUR players.

In his most recent outing on LIV, Koepka carded a 7-under round, a decent indication that he's feeling comfortable with his game. With that knowledge, and the fact that he was built to contend at tough U.S. Open setups, it's safe to assume the version of Koepka we've come to expect at majors will show up at Pinehurst.

He came T4 at the 2014 U.S. Open at Pinehurst before he was the major championship killer he is today. He also won at Shinnecock Hills, a course drawing comparisons to Pinehurst No. 2 as they both have difficult greens to hit and test players' off-the-tee and short games in similar ways.

Koepka is +2000 to win this week, which feels like a discount for the simple fact that he plays on LIV and not the PGA TOUR.

Bryson DeChambeau

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Golf fans see less of DeChambeau these days - unless they consume his YouTube content - but, when they do, he always seems to be in the mix.

DeChambeau held the first-round lead at the Masters en route to a T6 finish - his best result at Augusta. He then fell one shot short of Schauffele at last month's PGA Championship.

The 2020 U.S. Open champion seems like a different golfer than the one who only relied on brute strength to win tournaments. The way he's talking about attacking Pinehurst No. 2 with "boring golf" is exactly the type of mindset that's required to outlast the competition.

Maybe that'll change if he catches a bad break in the sandy areas and starts to force the issue. But if DeChambeau - who remains the best driver of the ball in the world - can find the fairway with a high level of frequency, there's a great chance he'll be in the mix on Sunday. He has the pedigree to stare down Scheffler in what could be an iconic final-round duel.

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