Scottie Scheffler opens U.S. Open with 71, leaving him in contention but with ground to make up

PINEHURST, N.C. (AP) — Scottie Scheffler spent his opening round at the U.S. Open in a strange situation.

He was over par.

The world’s top-ranked player had played 21 holes all season when he was over par for a tournament, yet that’s where Scheffler found himself after a bogey at the par-4 third on Thursday. He spent the rest of the day over par, too, balancing a pair of birdies with two more bogeys for a 1-over 71 that left him in contention but with ground to make up.

His playing partner, Rory McIlroy, shot a bogey-free 65 that put him in a tie with Patrick Cantlay atop the leaderboard at tough Pinehurst No. 2. The third player in their powerhouse trio, PGA champ Xander Schauffele, finished at even-par.

Not very often is Scheffler bringing up the rear of any group.

Scheffler arrived this week as the overwhelming favorite, according to BetMGM Sportsbook, to win his third major. He has won five of his last eight tournaments, including his second Masters, and was coming off a victory at the Memorial, where a 2-over 74 at Muirfield Village in the final round was still enough for a one-shot win over Collin Morikawa.

The last time Scheffler was over par in consecutive rounds was the British Open at Royal Liverpool nearly a year ago.

“Every week we play, he seems to build a bigger lead, and somehow make the mountain even taller for all of us to climb,” Schauffele said earlier in the week. “That’s all he’s been doing, and hats off to him for being so consistent.”

Scheffler wasn’t far off his usual brilliance at Pinehurst on Thursday.

On the the third, Scheffler’s tee shot barely trickled into the native grass, and his approach looked good until it bounced off the contoured green and into a bunker. He missed his par putt so badly that he started walking the moment he hit it.

At the par-3 sixth, Scheffler managed to get his tee shot onto the massive green. But his lag putt was poor, leaving about 18 feet for par, and that miss dropped him to 2 over for only the second time at any point in a tournament this year.

Scheffler got a shot back at the seventh, when he hit his approach from 164 yards to 12 feet and made birdie. But he also missed a 12-footer for birdie at the 10th, and one from a bit longer at the 11th, that could have provided him some momentum.

His biggest blunder — only one, really — came at the par-4 16th, when Scheffler’s tee shot went so far left that it rattled among the fans like a pinball before settling into the pine straw. He caught a break when a tower was in his way, giving him a free drop and a clean look at the green, but his approach wound up in a collection area and he made another bogey.

Scheffler finished strong, though, on a day where perseverance was rewarded. After watching McIlroy and Schauffele hit nice shots into the long par-3 17th, he stuck his own inside them. And with a confident stroke, Scheffler rolled that 12-footer dead-center of the cup for his final birdie of the day.

He added a tap-in par at the 18th, and after signing his card, headed right to the practice range for some early evening work.

Scheffler was due back on the tee early Friday with some ground to make up.

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AP golf: https://apnews.com/hub/golf

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