Mother Nature continued to provide a reprieve to the world’s best golfers on Friday. While the sun finally made an appearance – brief as it was – at Pebble Beach Golf Links, the brisk winds that often define U.S. Open Championships contested on the iconic Monterey Peninsula layout continued to be kind and gentle.
Even with the greens firming up a bit, Round 2 produced more under-par rounds (44) than Thursday (39).
But a different person was holding the lead.
Gary Woodland, a 35-year-old Kansas native who has never finished better than a tie for 23rd in eight previous U.S. Open starts, carded a 6-under, bogey-free 65 for a two-stroke lead over 2013 champion Justin Rose. Woodland’s round matched the 18-hole record in a U.S. Open at Pebble Beach held by Tiger Woods (2000) and Rose, who posted that number in Thursday’s opening round. Woodland’s 36-hole total of 133 (9 under) surpassed Woods’ mark of 134 for U.S. Opens at Pebble Beach, but was three off the championship 36-hole scoring record of 130 registered by Martin Kaymer in 2014 at Pinehurst.
Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion at St. Andrews, is three strokes back at 6-under 136. Rory McIlroy, the 2011 U.S. Open champion, and Aaron Wise are another shot back at 137 after shooting 69 and 71, respectively, on Friday.
Two-time defending champion Brooks Koepka carded a second consecutive 69 and tied for sixth, five strokes back at 138. Woods, a three-time champion, bogeyed his final two holes to shoot 72 and is nine back at even-par 142.
This is not the first time that Woodland, a three-time PGA Tour winner, has owned a 36-hole lead in a major championship. In last year’s PGA Championship at Bellerive Country Club, he opened 64-66, only to finish tied for sixth. He also tied for eighth in last month’s PGA at Bethpage State Park.
On Friday, Woodland put on a ball-striking clinic by hitting 14 of 18 greens. After converting a 15-foot par putt on the difficult eighth hole, his 17th of the day, Woodland punctuated his day by holing a 50-footer for birdie on the par-4 ninth.
“I've played well at Pebble the last couple of times I've been here during the AT&T,” said Woodland, who tied for fifth in the annual PGA Tour event in 2017, but missed the cut in his three other starts. “I've struggled at the other two courses (Spyglass Hill and Monterey Peninsula Country Club), but this golf course I feel comfortable at.
“With the stroke itself I put a lot of work in with Phil Kenyon, at the PGA was one of the worst weeks I'd had putting but he told me it was the best he's ever seen my stroke. That gave me a lot of confidence knowing that it was something I could work on, not stroke-wise, but learning how to practice, learning how to read greens, making some adjustments in that aspect.”
Rose didn’t have the same fireworks as Round 1 when he closed with three consecutive birdies, but the Englishman’s 1-under 70 was more about grinding out pars, especially his final two holes when he converted an 8-foot par putt on No. 8 and got up and down for par from behind the ninth green.
“You know you're going to need to make those sort of key 5-, 6-, 7-, 8-foot putts for par, and invariably they have a lot of swing on them on this golf course,” said Rose, whose lone PGA Tour title in 2019 came in the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines. “They are makeable. You feel like you should make them. But they're kind of 50-50 putts. So when you make them you are keeping up the momentum and then you miss one you really feel like you've lost something.”
Both Woodland and Rose know medals and trophies aren’t handed out for 36-hole leaders. Several experienced players, including major champions McIlroy, Koepka, Henrik Stenson, Adam Scott and Zach Johnson, are within six of the lead.
“I've been in the situation recently, which has been a huge help,” said Woodland of the 2018 PGA Championship. “I was leading after 36 holes, played with Koepka there on Saturday. Playing with Tiger on Sunday at Bellerive was a huge daily shot, [just] being in that atmosphere.
“The comfortable [part] is within myself. I know what I'm capable of doing.”
The cut came at 2-over 144 with 75 professionals and four amateurs making it to the weekend. The amateur contingent included 2018 U.S. Amateur champion Viktor Hovland.
Thirty-six-hole leader Gary Woodland has played his last 22 holes bogey-free and is the only player in the field with one bogey. Woodland, Graeme McDowell and sectional qualifier Nathan Lashley are the only players to have bogey-free rounds.
Louis Oosthuizen didn’t make a par on his inward nine on Friday until the 18th hole (4 birdies, 4 bogeys).
This is the sixth time Rory McIlroy has started a major championship with consecutive rounds in the 60s. He has won three of the previous five.
Brooks Koepka (69-69) is the first defending champion to post the first two rounds in the 60s since Scott Simpson in 1988.
Reigning U.S. Junior Amateur champion Michael Thorbjornsen, 17, of Wellesley, Mass., is the second-youngest player to make the 36-hole cut. He is 6 months older than Beau Hossler (2012).
Reigning U.S. Senior Open champion David Toms and reigning U.S. Mid-Amateur champion Kevin O’Connell each missed the cut. Other notable USGA champions who failed to qualify for the weekend included: Lucas Glover (2009 U.S. Open); Brandt Snedeker (2003 U.S. Amateur Public Links); Ernie Els (1994, 1997 U.S. Open), Scottie Scheffler (2013 U.S. Junior), Stewart Hagestad (2016 U.S. Mid-Amateur) and Matt Parziale (2017 U.S. Mid-Amateur).
Four of the 17 players to navigate local and sectional qualifying made it to the weekend: amateur Chandler Eaton, Andy Pope, Chip McDaniel and Charlie Danielson.
Rhys Enoch, of Wales, had the comeback of the day, rebounding from a first-round 78 to shoot 66 and make the cut. Enoch qualified from the Surrey, England, sectional on June 3.
“It was huge, because I played beautifully all day. And I just didn't want to give a shot back. I made a bad swing from the middle of the fairway. That's one [putt] you're hoping to get close, but it's nice when it goes in. It was a huge confidence going into the last. And that was probably the biggest shot of the day.” Gary Woodland on his 15-foot par save on No. 8
“There’s a long way to go. And yet I couldn't think … here and St. Andrews [for the Open Championship] would probably be the two most iconic places to lift a bit of silver. I couldn't think of anything better. But if you don't mind, I'm just going to wait a couple of days.” – Justin Rose when asked what it would be like to win a second U.S. Open
“I feel great. I’m excited. I’ve got a chance. That’s all you can ask for. I just need to make a few putts. Sometimes the hole just needs to open up.” – Two-time defending champion Brooks Koepka (69-69) on his position going into the final 36 holes
“There's no basketball or hockey to watch anymore. I've got two episodes of Billions to catch up on, so I might have to do that. But, yeah, that's really it. We've had room service like four of the last five nights so might maybe venture into Carmel and have dinner there. But that's really it. Just sort of think about anything else but this.” – Rory McIlroy (68-69) on his post-round plans, knowing he’ll have a late-afternoon tee time on Saturday
“I felt I did an amazing job. I was able to stay patient, wait for the birdies to come to me. And 17 was a huge birdie, and to get one on 18 and finish even for the day makes me feel good.” – Aaron Wise on his 71 that kept him at 5 under par for the championship
“I’d probably prefer a bit of sunshine. It was a little … gloomy when we teed off. But I think if you start seeing some sunshine and a little bit of breeze, then the greens are going to firm up and we'll play a slightly different golf course. It's been fairly receptive, and you can somewhat attack the approach shots, at least with the shorter clubs.” – Henrik Stenson on the conditions for Friday’s morning wave
“I can’t think of a much better way to leave the course than holing out on 18 for eagle.” – Matt Kuchar after shooting a 2-under 69 that includes a 3 on the par-5 closing hole
“Well, this is a course we play every single year [on the PGA Tour], or at least I choose to be here. I love this place. I think there's something magical about this peninsula. You're interviewing me. Look at what we're looking at (Pacific Ocean). It's pretty amazing. And the weather is just outstanding this week.” – Chesson Hadley when asked why he’s having success this week (4-under 138 thru 36 holes)
David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at email@example.com.