A long Day 2 at Torrey Pines wrapped up with 20 players at or within five shots of the 36-hole lead. Here are the top notes to know with two rounds to go at the 121st United States Open Championship:
1. It’s been a storybook week so far for Richard Bland, the veteran Englishman who shares the 36-hole lead in just his fourth career major championship start. At age 48, Bland is the oldest player in U.S. Open history to lead at the halfway point. Is there some seasoned-pro serendipity in the air at Torrey Pines? When Phil Mickelson won the PGA Championship last month, he was 115th in the Official World Golf Ranking. Bland’s ranking this week? 115.
2. Despite holding the 36-hole co-lead, history says Bland is still a longshot to get his miracle U.S. Open win. Bland is the 18th man age 40 or older to hold the lead or co-lead through two rounds in this championship. Only two of the previous 17 went on to win: Ben Hogan in 1953 and Payne Stewart in 1999. Should Bland win this week, he would surpass Hale Irwin (45 years old in 1990) as the oldest champion in U.S. Open history.
3. Russell Henley shares the 36-hole lead with Bland, the first time he has held the lead or co-lead after two rounds in a major. Henley played 26 major championships in his career before this week, but has not once finished in the top 10. If he’s to break through with his first major win this week, he’ll need to continue his stellar iron play. Through two rounds, he ranks second in the field in greens in regulation, fourth in average proximity to the hole, and sixth in strokes-gained approach.
4. After finishing runner-up in his U.S. Open debut last year, Matthew Wolff is looking for even bigger things from his encore performance. Wolff, who is tied for third, has been in 11th place or better following all six of his career rounds in this championship. Should he win this week, he would join a remarkable list of champions who won the U.S. Open the year after finishing second the last 100 years: Bob Jones, Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods and Dustin Johnson.
5. Finishing in the top two in back-to-back U.S. Opens is a remarkable achievement, but doing it in your first two appearances in the championship would truly be historic. If Wolff wins (or finishes second) this week, he would be the first player to finish top two in each of his first two career U.S. Open starts since Harry Vardon. Winner of seven professional majors, Vardon won in his first U.S. Open in 1900. He did not return to play in another until 1913, when he finished tied for second place behind Francis Ouimet.
6. Bubba Watson shot 67 in Round 2, tying his lowest career score in the U.S. Open. In fact, it was just the fourth time he’s shot under par in 42 career rounds played at this championship. Watson has benefited from a balanced attack: through two rounds, he is one of three players to have gained at least one full stroke on the field on tee shots, approach shots, around the green and putting. The other two are Louis Oosthuizen and Jon Rahm.
7. Speaking of Rahm, the pre-championship favorite is in prime position as the weekend arrives. Just two shots off the lead, this is the second time in Rahm’s professional career he has been in the top five through 36 holes of a major (last fall’s Masters was the other). Rahm is a combined 54 under par in tour events at Torrey Pines since 2017, the best score of any player during that span. He is trying to become the first player from Spain to win the U.S. Open.
8. Brooks Koepka shot a disappointing 73, snapping his record streak of six straight U.S. Open rounds in the 60s. Koepka will be five shots back entering the weekend, the same deficit he faced through two rounds when he won in 2018 at Shinnecock Hills. If anyone can make a weekend charge, it’s Brooks – over the last century, there have been more than 400 players with 10 or more weekend rounds at the U.S. Open. The only player in that group to average more strokes gained total than Koepka (+3.35) is Bob Jones (+4.31).
9. With a second-round 69, not only did Phil Mickelson ensure his chase for a U.S. Open title will last two more days, he also scooted past a longtime rival in the history books. Mickelson recorded his 22nd career round in the 60s at the U.S. Open, breaking a tie with Tiger Woods for second-most all-time. Jack Nicklaus leads, with 29. This is the 26th time Mickelson has made the cut at the U.S. Open – only Nicklaus, Hale Irwin and Sam Snead finished 72 holes at this championship 27 times or more.
10. While the moniker of “moving day” is typically reserved for Saturday in our game, Friday may need to take that title at the U.S. Open. A staggering 24 of the last 25 U.S. Open champions were inside the top six through 36 holes. 23 of the last 25 to win were at or within two shots of the lead entering the weekend. Only 11 percent of U.S. Open champions since World War I have been outside the top 10 with two rounds to go.
Justin Ray is the head of content for Twenty First Group. He has also worked as a senior researcher at ESPN and Golf Channel.