3 Things to Know: Round 3
September 19, 2020 Mamaroneck, N.Y. By Dave Shedloski

Hey, remember when there was talk of Winged Foot Golf Club’s West Course being too easy? That was around the same time that some U.S. Open competitors still had unbruised egos.

What we watched on Friday in Round 2 of the 120th U.S. Open Championship was the Foot, as members refer to it, being put to … well, that place where we all like to sit, and who didn’t enjoy that? I mean, besides those who got the Foot and got it good.

That sound you heard very plainly over your television sets – what with no spectators muddying up the audio – was the biggest exhibition of teeth gnashing this side of the ending to “Game of Thrones.” And it was glorious. The U.S. Open is not supposed to be easy, and it’s not supposed to be fair. But it is supposed to be earned.

According to statistics expert Justin Ray, the scoring differential between Round 1 and Round 2 of 2.69 strokes is the highest in U.S. Open history, eclipsing the 1999 championship at Pinehurst No. 2, when the increase in scoring average from the first to second round was 2.58 strokes.

This is what happens when you add wind to the usual formula of healthy rough and firm, fast greens.

Sixty-two poor … er, lucky souls made the cut, which fell at 6-over 146. Now the real fun begins. Here are 3 Things to Know for Saturday’s Round 3.

Time to Chill

The weather forecast for this weekend is perfect for setting up a challenging test of golf. Winds will taper off a bit, and the chance of rain is near zero, but temperatures are not expected to surpass the mid-60s either Saturday or Sunday. That should result in a firm and fast course – and one that will play a bit longer, since chillier air will restrict distances that the ball carries. This will put an even greater premium on accuracy off the tee as players will likely have to hit longer approaches into greens. This would seem to play into the hands of distance hunter Bryson DeChambeau, but don’t overlook shorter hitters such as Brendon Todd and 2012 U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson, who tend to live in the short grass.

Not-So-Mad Scientist

It would be a mistake to think there is no strategy, no critical thinking aforethought, to the bomb-and-bomb-some-more approach by the aforementioned DeChambeau, who swings hard enough to create his own weather pattern. On the contrary, there is no aspect of the game that the 2015 U.S. Amateur champion hasn’t dissected and deconstructed in putting together a kind of golf style that reminds one of how slugger Dave Kingman approached each at-bat in his major league career. Just remember that swinging for the fences wouldn’t work if DeChambeau didn’t find his share of fairways and couldn’t putt. Driving it and putting it happen to be two of the absolute essentials this week. So, DeChambeau is looking good with 36 holes to go.

Wedge Work

Perusing the short-game statistics from the recently completed shortened PGA Tour season, one name pops up repeatedly. That would be Patrick Reed, the 36-hole leader, who has cobbled together rounds of 66-70 to lead DeChambeau by a stroke and three others by two shots, including first-round leader Justin Thomas. Reed’s 7.14 strokes-gained average combined in shots around the green and putting leads the field. It’s because his wedge play and bunker game have been outstanding. It’s also how the 2018 Masters winner is defying the odds with his poor driving. Reed hit only five of 14 fairways each of the first two days. If he goes on to win, we’ll know why – though someone like Thomas can also play that game but is a better ball striker. We’re still betting fairways and greens mean more at the end, but in the year 2020, that isn’t a safe bet.

Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based freelance writer who frequently contributes to usopen.com and usga.org.