ST. ANDREWS, Scotland – Scottie Scheffler never laid eyes on the Old Course until last Sunday, so a little learning curve might be expected this week at the British Open, where it’s tough to win the game’s oldest championship without needing a crash course on the centuries- old venue.
But then, Scheffler has been doing unexpected things all year, such as winning for the first time at the Waste Management Phoenix Open and then rattling off a couple more victories so soon that he was already No. 1 in the world but the time he got to Augusta National.
And then he won the Masters, admitting afterward that he believed that Sunday morning, unsure if he was up to the task.
There were no tears Saturday evening after another tough day on the Old Course, where despite numerous low scores, there is plenty of stress. Scheffler is tied for fifth, five strokes behind leaders Rory McIlroy and Viktor Hovland. The task won’t be easy, but there are just two other players between him and the top.
“I think so,” Scheffler said when asked if he could make up the deficit. “You can get rolling around here in a hurry. I was rolling it pretty good today and I could have taken it really low. The putts weren’t going in. I got a really bad break there on 12 (where he made a bogey), which probably cost me two shots.
Instead of the ball running out on the green, it ends up in the lip of a pot bunker. That’s what happens on this golf course.”
And that is what Scheffler might need to have happen if he is to win a second major title this year.
Scores of 68-68-69 are good enough most weeks, but here – with relatively benign conditions – it leaves him fighting from behind.
But to even have a chance is remarkable enough for Scheffler, who when the first of this year rolled around, did not have a single PGA Tour victory.
And the list of players who have won at Augusta National and the Old Course starts with Nick Faldo (1990) and ends with Tiger Woods (2005).
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And the list of players to win five times in a year including the Masters and the Open is pretty short, too: Ben Hogan (1953), Arnold Palmer (1962), Tom Watson (1977) and Woods (2005).
Perhaps a win would erase some of the anonymity Scheffler still faces. Despite a monster year that has seen him in the No. 1 spot for nearly four months, along with also contending at the US Open, Scheffler goes about his business with little fanfare.
“I guess I am No. 1 in the rankings,” he said. “I’m not sure if I’m necessarily perceived by you all or whoever.”
Not that he is bothered by it.
“That’s not stuff I ever really think about it,” he said. “For me, I’m just trying to go out and play good golf.”
And he doesn’t seem too concerned about being able to do that. Despite being the last man on the victorious US Ryder Cup team just 10 months ago, Scheffler hardly seems overwhelmed by his success.
In 15 events this year, he has seven top-10s including those four victories. He lost in a playoff at the Charles Schwab Challenge and tied for second at the US Open. His only missed cuts came at the PGA Championship – admittedly a surprise – and at last week’s Scottish Open.
That allowed him to get to St. Andrews early, and perhaps that pays off Sunday. Any extra time figuring out the nuances of such a complicated course can be of great value.
Scheffler lamented a few missed opportunities Saturday, but that is the nature of the game and the course. It might be too much to ask, but a comeback is not out of the question.
“I think you just have to get used to the golf course and the firmness,” Scheffler said. “And I think links golf kind of suits me where you’re hitting all different kinds of shots and creating and seeing, versus playing numbers. So for me, I don’t have to change too much. Just have to get used to the conditions.”
But there is one number he won’t focus on: a score.
“I’m going to go out there and try and get off to a good start,” he said. “We’ll see what happens from there.”