Scottie Scheffler needs a rival. These 6 guys could seize that title

Scottie Scheffler needs a rival. Is this the week he finds one?

Scottie Scheffler needs a rival. Is this the week he finds one?

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How good is Scottie Scheffler?

Pretty good, says Tiger Woods.

“If he putts awful, then he finishes in top 10,” Woods said on Tuesday at the PGA Championship. “If he putts decent, he wins. He putts great, he runs away. He’s just that good a ball-striker and that good an all-around player.”

We didn’t really need Woods’ endorsement. We’ve seen what Scheffler’s done. Four wins in five starts, interrupted only by one runner-up finish (shoutout Stephan Jaeger) and one new baby (shoutout Bennett Scheffler). Scottie’s victories at the Masters and the RBC Heritage sent him into a new stratosphere; suddenly he had more than double the World Ranking points of anyone else and, with proper competition lacking, the comparisons shifted to World No 1s from years past. They included Woods himself.

That’s all well and good. The pursuit of history? The context of past greats? That’s what makes sports meaningful. Still, it felt like something was missing. Take a peek at the top 25 players in the OWGR at the end of 2023 and you’ll see what I mean. Two of ’em — Jon Rahm and Tyrrell Hatton — left the PGA Tour for LIV. Two more — Brooks Koepka and Cameron Smith — were already there. The rest? Before last week they’d combined for just one individual PGA Tour victory in 2024 to Scheffler’s four. Scheffler hasn’t just been flexing his own star power. He’s zapped theirs in the process.

“I think it’s just a really difficult sport, and sometimes it can seem really easy, and then sometimes it can seem pretty tough,” Scheffler said Tuesday. “The last couple months it seems like it has felt fairly easy at times.”

So now what? Now Scheffler needs a challenger. Whether that means a Red Sox to his Yankees or a Joker to his Batman, a dynamic No. 2 would make Scheffler at No. 1 that much more compelling. If you’re sick of Scheffler victories, don’t lose hope; golf domination is difficult and Scheffler’s rival’s arrival could be closer than we think. It could already be in process.

Scheffler won the first major of the year. Here are six candidates who could strengthen their case by winning the second this week.

6. The champ who left: Jon Rahm

It may seem difficult to forge a rivalry between two guys who play on different tours, but these are strange times and golf has a unique structure. Rahm was No. 2 in the world when he left for LIV, he’s won two majors in the last few years and by any metric he’s been one of the best golfers in the world for the past half-decade. He’s been playing solid golf at LIV, too, with no victories but seven top-10s in seven starts. Despite a hiccup in his Masters title defense — Rahm finished T45 — a win at Valhalla would serve as an international reminder that there’s no discussion of the world’s best players that doesn’t include Rahm.

5. The bridesmaid: Xander Schauffele

This weekend’s showdown with Rory McIlroy reminded the world that Xander Schauffele is the second most consistent top golfer in the world. It also reminded the world that Schauffele keeps coming painfully close to winning without getting over the line. He has five top-fives this season. He has top-20s in each of his last eight starts. He hasn’t missed a cut since the 2022 Masters. But it’s been 39 starts since his last victory and painful close calls at three of this year’s biggest events — the Genesis, the Players and Wells Fargo — have the Xander haters out in full force. But a win this week would change that entire narrative.

4. The believer: Wyndham Clark

Among the biggest non-Scottie victories this season belongs to Clark, who broke the Pebble Beach course record thanks to a Saturday 60 and won a Signature Event in the process. At Bay Hill he finished second, losing only to Scheffler. The following week he was one brutal lipout from a playoff with Scheffler; he finished second again. Add in the fact that Clark is the reigning U.S. Open champ (Scheffler finished third that week) and Clark has made it clear he wants every part of that fight.

3. The new kid: Ludvig Aberg

Aberg possesses three qualities that make him a particularly intriguing candidate for this list: Talent, youth and mystique. There’s no questioning his talent; Aberg is an elite driver and an elite irons player and that’s an elite combination. He’s young, too, just 24 years old, less than a year under his belt on the PGA Tour and just one major start on his resume. But that major was one to remember. It’s notoriously challenging to play well at Augusta National in your first Masters but Aberg lost to just one player: Scheffler. Millions of Masters viewers got their introduction to the mysterious Swede. They must have been impressed by what they saw.

One interesting contrast: The way they talk about golf. Scheffler has been intent on citing golf as what he does, not who he is. Golf is my job. That’s been his mantra. Aberg?

“I don’t necessarily view it as my job,” he said Wednesday. “I think it’s something that I have the privilege to be able to do, and I try to view it that way and try to hit different shots and make sure that I don’t lose that joy of playing golf. I think that’s very important.”

2. The big-game hunter: Brooks Koepka

We still measure greatness in major championships, and since the days of Tiger and Phil there’s nobody who can match Koepka’s five majors. Sure, there’s the LIV-PGA Tour problem; we’ve rarely seen Scheffler and Koepka go head-to-head and we won’t get many chances going forward, either. But the majors could be enough. Koepka enters this PGA as the defending champ, after all. And until he stops winning the big ones, every ranking needs him near the top.

Koepka was asked specifically if he was looking forward to taking on Scheffler, given his major record and the fact that he’s coming off a LIV victory.

“Look, I always enjoy competing against these guys,” he said. “And anytime you get the best, it’s always good, and you just want them to play their best, too. You want to go out and win it.”

1. The superstar: Rory McIlroy

Rory McIlroy walks golf course at 2024 PGA Championship
At this PGA, every conversation starts with one man: Rory McIlroy
By: Sean Zak

This list may have looked different had Sunday at Quail Hollow looked different. But then McIlroy found some sort of power-up in the middle of the final round, played an eight-hole stretch in eight under par, turned a two-shot deficit into a six-stroke lead and went on to win the Wells Fargo by five.

McIlroy’s current form is impressive; despite a couple of months outside contention, he’s won a DP World Tour event, a team event on the PGA Tour and then Sunday’s Signature Event in 2024. He’s World No. 2 and has opened a gap over Schauffele at No. 3. Add in the fact that he’s Rory McIlroy — a four-time major champ, the winningest PGA Tour player since Tiger Woods and the most recognizable figure in the sport — and it’s pretty clear to see why he’d top this list.

Laying aside for a minute what this week is like for McIlroy the person, this week marks a particularly meaningful week for McIlroy the golfer. His fourth and most recent major victory came a decade ago, in this tournament, at this golf course. He freely admitted he hasn’t felt this confident in a while. The stars could be aligning, he said Sunday, for the end of the drought.

“I’ve always been able to compartmentalize pretty well. I seem to for whatever reason play very good golf whenever I have a lot of stuff going on,” he said. It’s safe to say he has a lot of stuff going on.

If he channels that into a win? Scheffler will finally have something visible in his rearview mirror.

Dylan Dethier

Dylan Dethier Editor

Dylan Dethier is a senior writer for GOLF Magazine/ The Williamstown, Mass. native joined GOLF in 2017 after two years scuffling on the mini-tours. Dethier is a graduate of Williams College, where he majored in English, and he’s the author of 18 in America, which details the year he spent as an 18-year-old living from his car and playing a round of golf in every state.