Hats off to Scheffler. His collection of caps remind him of what took him to No. 1


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PINEHURST, N.C. — Scottie Scheffler took two minutes to celebrate a big win at the Memorial, and then it was on to the next challenge — even though the next one is among the biggest in golf.

He arrived at Pinehurst No. 2 for the U.S. Open wearing a target he has had on since he began his latest tear that left no doubt who's the best in golf right now. Scheffler has won five of his last eight tournaments — the Masters, The Players Championship and three of the PGA Tour's "signature" events with the strongest fields.

The gap between Scheffler and everyone else in the world ranking is at a margin not seen since the peak years of Tiger Woods.

"Every week we play, he seems to build a bigger lead, and somehow make the mountain even taller for all of us to climb," PGA champion Xander Schauffele said Tuesday. "That's all he's been doing, and hats off to him for being so consistent and playing at such a high level for such a long time."

For Scheffler, it all goes back to the hats.

In his eyes, his collection of worn, sweaty, grungy, disgusting hats he keeps in the gym at his home in Dallas is what reminds him of how he got there.

"When I was a kid and I got a cool hat, I would wear it the whole summer and I would sweat through the hat," Scheffler said. "And they're just disgusting and gross and I hang 'em in my gym. So when I'm back there working out, I remind myself that just because I got to where I am now, it wasn't just because it happened.

"I remember all the work that I put in, all the balls that I hit, all the amount of time I spent out there sweating in the sun and putting in the time and the effort in order to become good."

No, this didn't happen overnight. It just seems that way.

So many players heaped so much praise on Scheffler and what he has done the last two years and particularly the last two months. It reminded him in a way of being picked for his first Ryder Cup team, and the confidence he was shown before he had won on the PGA Tour.

This is more about awe.

"Undoubtedly the best player in the world at the minute by a long way," Rory McIlroy said. "It's up to us to try to get to his level."

It hasn't always been this easy for Scheffler, and it still feels like hard work to him. His putting got so far out of whack last year that he brought on English putting coach Phil Kenyon to help work his way out of the problems.

He is coping with being a father — his first child, Bennett, was born just over a month ago. Scheffler is getting wearying talking about his arrest and brief jail time before the second round of the PGA Championship last month (he still shot 66) over charges he wasn't following police directions. The charges were dropped. He tied for eighth.

And he presses on, driven by the sheer joy of competition, and it must be even more fun when he leaves with the trophy.

But the target on his back is one that he doesn't see, and he acts like it's not there.

"When we start the tournament week, we're all at even par and it's not like anybody is out there playing defense," Scheffler said.

He will be in the U.S. Open's traditional group of the top three players in the world on Thursday, putting him with Schauffele (No. 2) and McIlroy (No. 3).

"They're not going to be saying weird stuff to me out on the golf course or trying to block my putt from going in the hole," he said. "We all kind of got to go out there and play our game. As far as a target on my back, even if there was, there's really not much we can do in the game of golf. Most of it is against the golf course and playing against yourself."

Pinehurst No. 2 figures to be the real target this week for Scheffler and everyone else. Wyndham Clark, the defending champion, was concerned when he arrived that the domed greens — a Donald Ross signature — already were firm and scary.

The field no longer includes former Masters champion Jon Rahm, the last player to occupy the No. 1 ranking before Scheffler took over. He withdrew on Tuesday.

Rahm developed an infection in the toes of his left foot last week, had to withdraw from a LIV Golf event in Houston and decided it wasn't worth the risk of affecting his swing or causing another injury by playing.

Before departing, Rahm joined the chorus of players amazed at Scheffler's level of play.

"Every year or every so many years, there's been great ball strikers that come up," Rahm said. "But when you start getting compared to Tiger and things that Tiger has done, that's when you know you are in a level that is quite special."

He noted Scheffler winning five times before the U.S. Open, a feat not achieved in 44 years. Rahm also noted where Scheffler has won — Augusta National, TPC Sawgrass, Bay Hill, Muirfield Village, Harbour Town.

"You're basically a Tiger Woods season," he said. "It's fantastic to see."

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

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