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Tough conditions and Scottie Scheffler's form set stage for challenging US Open

Only four players have finished under par across the three US Opens staged at Pinehurst and, if the hype is to be believed, that figure is not set for a significant rise this week.

Defending champion Wyndham Clark set the tone on Monday by describing some of the greens as already being "borderline", while Tiger Woods was unusually quotable in predicting bouts of "ping pong" as players chip from one side of the domed greens to the other.

Bryson DeChambeau and Rory McIlroy both used the word "boring" to describe the kind of golf they think is necessary to win a US Open, with the biggest danger of such an outcome coming in the shape of Scottie Scheffler repeating Martin Kaymer's runaway victory a decade ago.

After Payne Stewart edged out Phil Mickelson by a shot in 1999 and qualifier Michael Campbell held off Tiger Woods in 2005, Kaymer's eight-shot victory in 2014 came as a shock to the system, despite the Ryder Cup star having also led from start to finish to win the Players Championship five weeks earlier.

A sixth win of the year for Scheffler would be no surprise at all given the form of the Masters champion, who could conceivably have travelled to North Carolina halfway towards an unprecedented calendar-year grand slam if not for the surreal events of Friday, May 17.

"The only thing that took him from winning a golf tournament was going into a jail cell for an hour," was how McIlroy summed up Scheffler's arrest, and subsequent release, following an incident with a police officer as he tried to get into Valhalla ahead of his second round of the US PGA.

Scheffler remarkably carded a 66 that day but struggled to a third-round 73 as the seriousness of the charges against him — one of which was a felony — reportedly hit home.

The world number one bounced back with a closing 65, finished second in his next event and then won the Memorial Tournament on Sunday to become the first player to win five times before the US Open since Tom Watson in 1980.

"The word that I describe it as is relentless," McIlroy said. "It seems like every time he shows up, he is the guy to beat, and deservedly so.

"This run that he's been on, I think he's played 13 times this year, only once out of the top 10. Seems like he's always in contention. Undoubtedly the best player in the world at the minute by a long way. It's up to us to try to get to his level."

The prospects of McIlroy getting to that level in pursuit of an overdue fifth major title have surely been boosted by the news that the divorce petition he filed in a Florida court last month has been voluntarily dismissed.

McIlroy looked notably more relaxed in his pre-tournament press conference at Pinehurst, where he will play alongside Scheffler and US PGA winner Xander Schauffele in the first two rounds, a grouping of the world's three top-ranked players.

Jon Rahm would have been in that group a year ago but has slipped to eighth on the back of his move to LIV Golf and poor results in this year's majors, the Spaniard's season going from bad to worse when he was forced to withdraw from a tournament he won in 2021 due to injury.

Even without Rahm, the stage is set for a third major championship in the space of 10 weeks and one which promises to be anything but boring.

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