ERIN, Wis. — Erin Hills took it on the chin once again. For the second consecutive day, the massive layout was at the mercy of the best golfers in the world, who took turns battering par and the course in the second round of the U.S. Open.
With soft winds gently flowing above Erin Hills on Friday, and the fairways and greens still a tad soft after storms earlier in the week, the toughest test in golf is looking more and more like the former birdie-fest that was the Greater Milwaukee Open.
“It was still gettable,” said Charley Hoffman, who has posted 70-70 and is three shots out of the lead. “For the most part the wind was nonexistent. There was a slight breeze out there and the greens were receptive if you were in the fairway. You can still make birdies out there. “If you hit it in the fairway you can attack the golf course.”
Typically par is your friend in the U.S. Open. This week, so far, you’ve had to make birdies your friends, even if the course is playing 7,800-plus yards. With wind a non-factor, a red-number logjam emerged on the first page of the leaderboard with two rounds to play in the second major of the season. Four players — Paul Casey (71), Brian Harman (70), Tommy Fleetwood (70) and Brooks Koepka (70) —are tied for the lead at 7 under.
Casey made a snowman — a triple-bogey 8 on the par-5 14th — and still broke par with a 71. Helps that he made five consecutive birdies, just one short of the tournament record held by three players, including Adam Hadwin, who made six straight birds in Thursday’s first round. “Not every day you enjoy a round of golf with an 8 on the card, but I'm a pretty happy man,” Casey said. “Yeah, it was a bit of a roller coaster.”
Three players are a shot back — Jamie Lovemark (69), first-round leader Rickie Fowler (73) and J.B. Holmes (69). Five players are at 5 under — Si Woo Kim (70), Xander Schauffele (73), amateur Cameron Champ (69), Brandt Snedeker (69) and Hideki Matsuyama, who tied for the low round of the day with a 7-under-par 65. “I really haven't been hitting the ball well as of late. To shoot a good round like today, I'm certainly looking forward to the weekend,” Matsuyama said.
Six players are at 4 under, including Chez Reavie, the other player to shoot 65. In all, 23 players are within four shots of the lead. And a day after 44 players finished under par to set the record for most sub-par rounds in the first round, 46 players signed for a sub-par round. That fell one short of the record for most sub-par rounds in the second round, when 47 players broke par in 1990 at Medinah Country Club. Of the 68 players who made the cut, 42 are under par.
The cut came at 1 over, which tied the record for lowest cut in tournament history, in relation to par, also established in 1990. Despite all the good scoring, the world’s top 3 players missed the cut — defending champion and No. 1 Dustin Johnson (75-73), No. 2 Rory McIlroy (78-71) and No. 3 Jason Day (79-75). It is the first time since the introduction of the official world rankings in 1986 that the top 3 players in the world missed the cut in the same major championship.
“If you look at the golf course and you talk to me, Jason or Rory, this course sets up perfect for us. But as we all know, this game's all about putting,” Johnson said. “So it's pretty simple, I just didn't get it in the hole fast enough. “It's just golf. It's frustrating. But I don't let it bother me.”
There’s plenty of golf left to be played and Mother Nature will dictate what the course will tee up. The forecast calls for overnight showers and scattered thunderstorms throughout Saturday. If the course gets more water, it will be hard pressed to play fast and firm and tougher. If the storms stay away, Erin Hills could become a nasty beast.
“If we get rain tomorrow and it gets wet and it plays soft, this place is going to get soft and you're going to have to be aggressive and you have to make a ton of birdies,” Snedeker said. “The fairways are wide enough. They're starting to narrow down and are getting firm. But if it gets soft, they'll get wide again and guys will be throwing darts out there. “But I still think things are going to toughen up. So it's going to be a dog fight, and be a U.S. Open over the weekend.”
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