If Dustin Johnson appeared to be (somewhat) in the driver’s seat after 18 holes when all he had was a four-way share of the lead, then he’s cruising around Long Island with one hand on the wheel and the seat in a reclining position now that he’s four clear of the field midway through the 118th U.S. Open.
Johnson had the third-best score of Friday’s second round, a 3-under 67, at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club, and he’s the only player in the field to break par in both of the first two rounds. That’s how he arrived at his handsome 4-under 136 total. The nearest pursuers are fellow Americans Scott Piercy (more on him in a minute) and Charley Hoffman.
Next is a barrage of players at 1 over par, including defending champion Brooks Koepka and Englishman Tommy Fleetwood, who on Friday tied for low round of the championship at 4-under 66. (More on both of them in a minute, too.)
The cut to low 60 and ties came in at 8-over 148 with 67 players qualifying for another 36 holes at Shinnecock, otherwise known as a “kick in the teeth,” according to former PGA champion Keegan Bradley, who is headed home alongside a few pre-championship favorites, namely Jordan Spieth and Tiger Woods. (There will not be more on them in a minute.)
Sixty-six pairs of eyes will be keeping tabs on Johnson, the 2016 U.S. Open winner and world No. 1 player. Meanwhile, here are five (other) things to watch in Round 3 at Shinnecock:
1. Brooks Koepka: Only six players have won back-to-back U.S. Open titles, the last being World Golf Hall of Famer and Fox Sports golf reporter Curtis Strange in 1988-89. Koepka gave himself a real chance to duplicate the feat with an all-out blitz of Shinnecock over his final 11 holes, which he played in 6 under. The defending champion isn’t ready to hand back the trophy just yet.
2. England power: No, we’re not talking about the World Cup. Here at Shinnecock, four of the top 14 know all the words to “God Save The Queen.” That would be Fleetwood, 2013 U.S. Open winner Justin Rose, Ian Poulter and Matthew Fitzpatrick, the 2013 U.S. Amateur champion. These lads know how to maneuver a golf ball in the wind, and breezes are expected to pick up after a calm Friday afternoon.
3. Bounce: Yes, yes, that’s what balls do, but Wednesday’s drenching rain and the Friday sprinkles kept the fairways and greens at Shinnecock fairly receptive. Approach shots still were spinning backward, in fact. Well, enough of that. The forecast calls for warm temperatures and sunshine. And some stiffer breezes out of the southwest (the prevailing wind), though maybe no more than 15 mph. That would make things a bit more intriguing from the aerial side while further drying out the turf.
4. Moving: Yes, Saturday is called “Moving Day” in a 72-hole golf competition, but the mistake is thinking that the movement can only go one way. In truth, there will be key rallies and some surprising falls Saturday at Shinnecock, and while we can’t predict which way any single player is headed, Ian Poulter’s late struggles on Friday do not bode well, while Phil Mickelson is hitting the ball well enough to get on a run if he gets the putter working.
5. Scott Piercy: This guy expected to be going home Friday after he bailed on his Wednesday practice round after four holes out of frustration. Now he’s playing alongside Dustin Johnson in Saturday’s final pairing. The first alternate out of the Memphis sectional, Piercy is ranked 180 spots behind the leader in the world. Makes no difference. Piercy can handle this. Johnson was dominant two years ago at Oakmont (Pa.) Country Club. Three men tied for second place – Jim Furyk, Shane Lowry and Piercy, who shot a closing 1-under 69.
Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based freelance writer who frequently contributes to usga.org and usopen.com.