All over the grounds, the world’s best golfers have been humbled the last two days by Shinnecock Hills Golf Club. Even when Mother Nature provided some compassion – the winds subsided Friday and a two-plus-hour rain shower slightly dampened conditions – competitors continued to be frustrated by the iconic William Flynn design.
Just when it seemed a good round was going to be posted, something disastrous happened. Ian Poulter and Russell Henley, two of the four 18-hole co-leaders, each made a triple bogey, the former as he was challenging for the lead.
But one man has seemed immune to the carnage – at least over the first 36 holes.
Dustin Johnson, the 2016 champion who regained the No. 1 spot in the Official World Golf Ranking last week, posted a 3-under-par 67 on Friday for a 36-hole total of 4-under 136 and a four-stroke lead. No other player is in red figures.
That portends well for Johnson’s weekend, as the last four 36-hole leaders have gone on to win this championship. He’s also the first top-ranked player to hold the 36-hole lead in the U.S. Open since Tiger Woods in 2002 at Bethpage State Park, also located on Long Island.
There are some strong pursuers within six strokes of Johnson’s lead, including major champions Henrik Stenson (2016 Open Championship), Justin Rose (2013 U.S. Open) and Brooks Koepka, the defending champion, who carded a 4-under 66 on Friday to match the championship’s lowest round.
The other 66 came from England’s Tommy Fleetwood, who finished fourth a year ago at Erin Hills in his second U.S. Open start. He joined Rose, Stenson, Koepka and Poulter at 1-over 141.
Charley Hoffman and 18-hole co-leader Scott Piercy are four strokes back of Johnson. Hoffman, who shot a 69, had a chance to finish 36 holes in red figures, but bogeyed his final hole, the par-4 18th. Piercy also made a bogey 6 on No. 16, three-putting from 4 feet. He did rebound by making a 30-footer for birdie on 18 that ended up earning him a spot in Saturday’s final pairing with Johnson.
“I’m right there,” said Piercy, who was one of three runners-up to Johnson in 2016. “A couple of good days and as long as D.J. doesn’t run away and hide. But I’m excited.”
Johnson’s second round was punctuated by a 45-foot birdie on the par-3 seventh that barely trickled over the left lip.
“Yeah, that was a good one,” said Johnson. “I knew, obviously, about halfway there it was on a really good line if it would just get to the hole.”
Johnson also is 36 holes away from ending the curse of no player hoisting the U.S. Open Trophy after winning the previous week. Last week at the FedEx/St. Jude Classic, he punctuated his six-stroke victory by holing out from the fairway for an eagle 2 on the 72nd hole.
“There's still a lot of golf left,” said Johnson. “There's still 36 holes left no matter what position I'm in. Going into tomorrow, I'm going to stick to my game plan, stick to trying to play the holes how I have the first couple days and see what happens.”
- The cut came at 8-over 148 (64 professionals and 3 amateurs) and the casualties included U.S. Open champions Tiger Woods (2000, 2002, 2008), Jordan Spieth (2015), Rory McIlroy (2011), Martin Kaymer (2014), Graeme McDowell (2010), Ernie Els (1994, 1997), and Lucas Glover (2009), as well as U.S. Senior Open champion Kenny Perry and reigning U.S. Junior Amateur champion Noah Goodwin. This was the first year the USGA granted exemptions to the U.S. Junior Amateur and U.S. Mid-Amateur champions.
- Speaking of the U.S. Mid-Amateur, reigning champion Matt Parziale shot a second-round 73 to make the cut, becoming the first mid-amateur to do so since Trip Kuehne in 2003 at Olympia Fields. Fellow mid-ams Stewart Hagestad, the 2016 champion, and National Hockey League referee Garrett Rank missed the cut.
- Spieth was in position to make the cut with four consecutive birdies from No. 13, but he bogeyed his last two holes, including a three-putt bogey on No. 17.
- Jimmy Walker, the 2016 PGA champion, became the 12th player in championship history to record two eagles in one round, holing out from the fairway on No. 4 and converting an 18-foot putt on the par-5 16th.
- Besides Parziale, two other amateurs made the cut: rising college seniors Will Grimmer (Ohio State) and Luis Gagne (LSU).
- Seven players who survived local and sectional qualifying to play in the championship proper survived the cut: Mickey DeMorat, Calum Hill, Grimmer, Gagne, Chris Naegel, Dylan Meyer and Cameron Wilson.
Tiger Woods on the performance of Dustin Johnson the past two days (he was paired with him):
“Dustin was in complete control of what he's doing. He's hitting the ball so flush and so solid. I know it's windy, it's blustery, it was raining early, but he's hitting right through it. It was good to see because I watched a little bit of it last week and he was doing the same thing [in Memphis], but he's brought it up here and is doing it under these conditions, and he's got beautiful speed on the greens.
Every putt looked like it was going to go in.”
Russell Henley (69-73–142) on getting caught off-guard by the mid-morning rain:
“My caddie ran and got the umbrella last-second because he looked at his phone and said it was a 10 percent chance. So it was surprising that it was kind of a pretty steady rain for a couple holes there. It definitely makes it more difficult. This place is pretty hard with no wind and no rain.”
Defending champion Brooks Koepka on his mindset for the weekend after shooting 4-under 66 to get within five strokes of the lead:
“Obviously, you don't want to be that many back. But it's a U.S. Open, so disaster's always around the corner. You never know what's going to happen. You just keep putting the ball in play, hitting greens and try to sneak in a few birdies when you can.”
Ian Poulter on the poor bunker shot at No. 8 that led to a triple-bogey 7:
“I didn't commit to the shot I wanted to play, and that's the only disappointing thing, really, about the mistake I made. It's easy to talk about it and dwell on it and kind of chew it over. When you're out of position on this golf course you're trying not to make another mistake and another mistake. It just looks really stupid. So, yes, I felt stupid knifing the first one. I felt even more stupid semi-chunking the next one, and I didn't do much better on the next one either.”
Charley Hoffman (71-69–140) on being in the weekend chase:
“I feel great as of right now. I enjoy the challenges that golf brings, and there's going to be challenges out there tomorrow. I can't wait to see how I perform. But mentally, I feel great right now, and hopefully I'm here late on Sunday talking to you guys.”
Henrik Stenson (71-70–141) on whether Johnson can be caught:
“He's always catchable. Oh, he's right here. I think he's playing some really good golf, obviously, coming off a win last week and posted two really good rounds. So, yeah, he's going to be hard to catch, but I'll let him answer those questions.”
Reigning U.S. Mid-Amateur champion Matt Parziale (74-73–147) on playing the weekend:
“Golf's hard. I mean, this game is crazy. I'm happy with the way I played and looking forward to competing this weekend.”