OAKMONT, Pa. — A round and a half through this fractured U.S. Open it turns out that the best way to stay at the top of the leaderboard was to play as little as possible.
Andrew Landry is the leader after making exactly one stroke on Friday, a 10-foot birdie putt at 7:30 this morning to put an exclamation point on a four-under-par 66 that began 24 hours earlier. Lee Westwood is one shot back, having tidied up his 67 on Friday morning and then taken the rest of the day off, as did Shane Lowry, who sits tied for fourth with a 68.
Landry, Lowry and 76 other players who were in the early-late wave will begin their second rounds on Saturday morning, with the first tee times slated for 7:15 a.m. The 36-hole cut will come in the early- to mid-afternoon. It’s likely the leaders won’t tee off until supper time, meaning the third round will be completed on Sunday. Lord willing and the creek don’t rise, the final round will conclude before it gets dark on Sunday night.
In the meantime, plenty of golf was played on Friday at Oakmont Country Club, some of it quite good. Dustin Johnson dazzled with a display of metronomic ball-striking, beginning the tournament with 27 straight bogey-free holes, including a first round 67. The streak ended after Johnson was bunkered off the tee on number one -- he had begun his second round on the back nine -- but on the second hole he made the kind of gritty U.S. Open par that could signal that the enigmatic D.J. has discovered the inner fortitude that’s always been missing. After driving into a drainage ditch on the short, tricky par-4, Johnson slashed a recovery into the fairway and then got up-and-down with a full-swing wedge, draining a curling 12-foot putt.
“That was definitely big,” Johnson said afterward. “Kept the momentum going.”
Johnson’s second-round 69 left him tied with Landry. If we are to indulge in what-ifs, he could have a commanding lead. Johnson made a trio of three-putt pars on par-5s and missed a bunch of other good opportunities. Still, Johnson expressed satisfaction with his strong play, which has given him yet another chance at a major championship. (He now has 11 career top-10s, including four of the last five.)
“The greens are so hard to putt,” Johnson said. “No matter how close you are to the hole, they're tough to putt. I mean, I hit so many good putts today that I thought were going in, and burned the edge or lip out. But that's just how it goes… I felt like I played really solid all day for all 36 holes. I drove it really well. Hit a lot of great iron shots. Felt like I rolled the putter really nicely too. So very pleased with how it went today.”
While Johnson clubbed Oakmont into submission with two-putt pars, Scott Piercy had the wildest ride of the day, making only two pars on the opening nine of his second round. Through 36 holes the always-flammable Piercy has nine birdies and seven bogeys, leaving him two shots off the lead, in a tie for fourth with and Sergio Garcia, who was paired with Johnson and mostly matched him shot-for-shot, following a 68 with a hard-fought 70 that included an ocean-goer to save par on his final hole of the day as darkness fell.
That capped one of the more grueling days in the recent history of the U.S. Open, 36 holes in hot weather while tussling with a famously ornery course, albeit one that has been softened by rain.
“You're not going to find 36 holes that are harder than this golf course,” says Daniel Summerhays, who stormed into a tie for seventh at one under par thanks to a second-round 65, the low round of the week so far. “To play two rounds back to back in one day is very, very tough, very, very daunting. It's just one of those golf courses that you never can take any time off. You have to stick with it and if you have one mental mistake, it's an automatic double bogey.”
Plenty of top players felt Oakmont’s bite. At five over par, world No. 1 Jason Day is flirting with the cut line with three holes left to play on Saturday morning. At this moment the cut is projected to be six over. Among the likely casualties are Phil Mickelson, who made nine bogeys in his first 31 holes and sits at seven over with three holes left to play. Henrik Stenson looked like a contender after an opening 69 but in the afternoon made a whopping eight bogeys and a double; he is 10 over with two holes to play.
More thrills and spills await on what will be a dawn-to-dusk Saturday. Landry will have to prove he is legit while the likes of Lee Westwood (three under), Bubba Watson (one under), Bryson DeChambeau (one over) and Jordan Spieth (two over) take center stage. All of them will be chasing Johnson’s score. His playing partner Garcia sounded an ominous note on Friday evening.
“He played awesome,” Sergio said. “It's impressive. He drove the ball great. Very far. I don't think he missed many fairways at all. Out of 36 holes here at Oakmont with only one bogey, it shows you have to play really, really well. He's going to be tough to beat.”