Golf: Scheffler starts with eagle, but Schauffele posts 9-under 62

Published 9:33 pm Thursday, May 16, 2024

By WILL GRAVES AP National Writer

 LOUISVILLE, Ky.  — Scottie Scheffler began his pursuit of the second leg of the grand slam with a slam dunk.

The rest of his opening round at the PGA Championship wasn’t exactly a layup.

The world’s top-ranked player posted a somewhat pedestrian — by his current standard anyway — 4-under 67 at Valhalla on Thursday, a respectable number to be sure, but one that had the potential to be far lower after Scheffler’s 9-iron from 167 yards out on the first hole bounced once before hopping in for eagle.

“I was trying to hit it right at the pin because I felt like if I hit it the right way, the shortest it was going to go was on the pin,” Scheffler said. “I felt like it was going to go a little past the pin if anything, and it was nice to see that one go in obviously.”

The jolt immediately vaulted Scheffler onto the first page of the leaderboard, a place where he’s been a fixture for months. The early fireworks, however, soon gave way to steady if not quite spectacular golf.

The Masters champion balanced four birdies against two bogeys the rest of the way to leave him tied for 11th, five shots behind leader Xander Schauffele, who posted a 9-under 62. Schauffele had wrapped up his early masterpiece by the time Scheffler teed off, and yeah, Scheffler noticed.

“Xander went out and played a great round this morning and I’m not really going to worry about trying to shoot 9 under,” Scheffler said. “I’m just going to go out and try to hit good shots and play my own game.”

A game that is currently better than any else’s on the planet.

Scheffler arrived at Kentucky on a heater that included four wins in his last five starts, most notably pulling away from Ludvig Åberg on the back nine Sunday at Augusta National last month to earn his second green jacket.

He followed with a victory at Harbour Town, turning the gap between himself and world No. 2 Rory McIlroy into more of a canyon.

Golf, however, has taken a back seat of late. He and his wife, Meredith, welcomed their first child, son Bennett, on May 8. Scheffler has received plenty of advice in the interim — most of it in the vein of Tiger Woods’ suggestion that Scheffler simply try to get some sleep whenever possible — though the unique brand of chaos that often hits new parents didn’t stop oddsmakers from making Bennett’s dad a heavy favorite at Valhalla.

Scheffler certainly looked the part when he dunked in that 9-iron. The next five hours, however, were more muted. While he hit 12 of 14 greens, his putting — the closest thing he has to a weakness — was only so-so.

At the 10th he missed a 4-footer for birdie. He three-putted from 26 feet on the par-3 14th to drop a shot and on the par-5 18th he seemed to mishit his 13-foot birdie attempt, pushing it low and right of the hole.

“I missed two putts I felt like I should have holed today, but that’s going to happen when the greens get a little chewed up (late in the day),” Scheffler said.

Afterward, he went out into the late spring gloaming to get a little practice in. He’s part of the early wave during Friday’s potentially soggy second round.

Yes, there’s a bit of ground to make up. But this is hardly new territory. He was six shots back after the opening round at Hilton Head. Given he was just days removed from his second major, a letdown could have been expected.

There wasn’t one. By the following Monday morning, he was donning the plaid sportscoat annually to the winner. Schauffele is out in front, sure. There’s still a ways to go.

“I felt like there was a couple things I can clean up going into (Friday),” he said. “But overall today was a solid round.”


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