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PINEHURST, N.C. -- The runaway favorite to win the 2024 U.S. Open barely made remained in the field entering the weekend. Scottie Scheffler slid down the leaderboard by posting a second-round 74 at Pinehurst on Friday, his second straight substandard effort in North Carolina. Whether his 5 over score for the championship would be good enough to make the weekend was not determined until later int he day, but the two-time Masters champion had already moved onto the postmortem process of trying to figure out what went wrong in a major championship start that appears to be an anomaly for the No. 1-ranked golfer in the world.

Scheffler entered this U.S. Open riding a run of seven top-10 finishes in his last 10 major starts. He had made 38 straight cuts on the PGA Tour and played the weekend at every major over the last two years -- almost never even coming close to missing one.

Unlike some stars who are historically hemmed in by the difficult style of a USGA setup, Scheffler's last three finishes at the U.S. Open prior to Pinehurst were T7, T2 and 3rd.

So the hottest golfer in the game to be so far off the lead after 36 holes -- 10 back of the clubhouse leader at the time his round concluded -- requires a self-assessment of what went wrong. For Scheffler, what has stood out thus far is that his preparation for the tournament could have been improved.

Winning the Memorial last Sunday added to the lore of Scheffler's dominance this season; it marked his fifth win of the year and came at a course that demands excellence from its champions. Scheffler's rolodex of victories this year has been impressive given the tournaments, fields and courses: Bay Hill, TPC Sawgrass, Augusta National, Harbour Town and Muirfield Village. That success pushed his betting odds even closer to the "Scottie or the field" category, as the man who has been the world No. 1 in golf since March 2022 prepared to tee it up at one of the season's toughest tests. 

But it's that preparation process where Scheffler believes he might have started off track at Pinehurst.

"There's definitely an aspect of [fatigue], and that's something that I'll look at in my preparations," Scheffler said after the round on Friday. "I think going forward that's something I'm really going to take a harder look at, the prep for the majors. Augusta is one that I've good prep for, figured out I don't like playing the week before that one and maybe I'll adopt more of that strategy going into this one. Because there definitely was a fatigue aspect, but I was ready to play."

Scheffler elaborated that, in addition to fatigue, he did not feel as prepared as he could have been for the native areas around Pinehurst No. 2. He noted that he may not need to avoid the tournament that precedes the U.S. Open but at least make a trip to the USGA's host location to get additional prep work in for the championship. 

The native areas were a particular pressure point for Scheffler after he and playing partners Rory McIlroy and Xander Schauffele all hit and rolled off the green into a native area on the par-5 5th hole. The degree of difficulty both hitting out of the areas and holding the slick greens with run-offs resulted in double bogeys for Scheffler and Schauffele. (It made Rory's par look like an eagle considering their starting position.)

"Probably, on any other golf course, if I hit those two shots -- driver, 3 wood into a green on a par 5 -- probably have a good look at birdie and not walking off with a 7," Scheffler said. 

In terms of his game moving forward, Scheffler was not overly discouraged. He didn't love his swing Thursday but was able to post some scores. While his ball striking improved Friday, he was unable to take advantage. Prior to the disaster on No. 5 Scottie had a look at birdies on Nos. 2-4. I fone of those putts drop, perhaps Scheffler is facing an entirely different situation entering the weekend.

"I'm proud of how I fought today, I gave myself a good chance. You know, yesterday I felt like I did a great job, and today I just couldn't get the putts to fall," Scheffler said. "This golf course can be unpredictable at times and maybe that got the better of me the last couple of days. I'll sit down and think about what went wrong the last few days, get it figured out."