MAMARONECK, N.Y. — The first day of the U.S. Open was a gift, a small box waiting at reception to thank you for coming. That was what the USGA and Winged Foot handed the players. It’s been a long, tough year for everyone and they just wanted to be nice. Well, that’s over.
The real U.S. Open began on Friday, when the winds swirled and the greens started to bake and the rough seemingly grew an inch or two every hour. Remember how there were 21 players under par in the opening round? Now, only six names on the leaderboard have red numbers next to their names.
So get ready for a wild, wide-open, last-man-standing U.S. Open.
The final pairing isn’t boring
There are no fans at Winged Foot, no New Yorkers roaming outside the ropes to make a ruckus like they did two years ago for the U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills or last year at the PGA Championship at Bethpage Black. Instead, COVID-19 has left golf courses largely silent. It would be interesting, if the fairways were lined, to see which player in the final group the galleries got behind.
Two of golf’s biggest personalities will tee off last in Saturday’s third round: Patrick Reed and Bryson DeChambeau. Reed has had his share of issues — trouble with rules violations and a run-in with some fans at the Presidents Cup. DeChambeau has heard grumbling about his slow play and has been the center of attention for his body transformation, putting on weight and hitting the ball lengths few have seen.
But there are no fans. So it’s just two big personalities with two different styles trying to position themselves for their first U.S. Open win.
“He sends it to the moon, and I hit it underneath the trees,” Reed said. “I played a practice round with him and we were on No. 8 and there’s a tree on the right that I’m kind of cutting around. I could cover it, but I’m not really trying to take that tree on. I’m going to play it left of it and kind of peel it around it. Well, he wasn’t even looking at that tree.
“It just shows there’s so many different ways to play a golf course. He’s kind of showing one way, and I show another, and everyone is different.”
DeChambeau has never lacked confidence. After posted a 2-under 68 Friday, one of just three rounds under par on a brutal day for scoring at Winged Foot, DeChambeau sounded like a player who liked his chances this weekend.
“I feel great,” he said. “Confidence is at an all-time high right now, driving it well, iron play is fantastic, wedging is getting better each and every day, and I’m putting it like I know I can. So very happy.”
Then there was this exchange:
Question: You create more birdie opportunities …
Question: … than anyone out here?
Reed and DeChambeau should be familiar with each other. This will be the sixth time the two have played together since golf’s restart in mid-June after the coronavirus shutdown. Over the previous five times, DeChambeau has gone lower three times, Reed once and they matched scores once. Neither player shot higher than 72 in any of the rounds.
Winged Foot is getting angry
After the easiest day among the five times Winged Foot has hosted the U.S. Open, the old place put its foot down Friday.
“[Friday] really felt like a U.S. Open, I can tell you that,” Xander Schauffele said after his second-round 72 that has him at even par for the championship.
How much different was it? Here’s the evidence:
Don’t expect it to suddenly get easier.
“The greens are only going to get firmer, and the scores are only going to get higher,” said Matthew Wolff, who followed his 66 with a 74 on Friday.
Still, he’s at even par, tied for seventh, four shots back and feeling pretty good about it.
“If you told me that on Wednesday I was going to be even par for the first two days, I would take it in a heartbeat,” he said.
Schauffele is looking forward to the struggle ahead.
“I’m probably just a sick person that enjoys doing it, playing in it,” he said. “It’s just the full package. I think that’s why winning a U.S. Open is so rewarding.”
Who has a chance?
Daniel Berger and Dustin Johnson shot even-par 70 on Friday and moved up 49 places on the leaderboard. Bubba Watson posted 1-under 69, one of the three rounds under par on Friday, and moved up 40 spots.
So how far is too far back? One of the players who didn’t make the cut has the answer.
“The way the golf course is changing, is turning, that anybody who makes the cut has the opportunity to win this,” Tiger Woods said.
Among those in the group that made it into the weekend right on the number at 6 over and start the weekend 10 behind Reed include some recognizable names: Open champion Shane Lowry, Rickie Fowler, Jason Day, Patrick Cantlay and Paul Casey. Think it’s out of the question? In 1975 at Medinah, Lou Graham was 11 down heading into Saturday’s third round and won.
Who doesn’t have a chance?
Tiger Woods expresses his disappointment and breaks down what went wrong for him after missing the cut at the U.S. Open.
Some big names missed out on the weekend. Woods is gone after a second-round 77. Phil Mickelson, whose double bogey on the 72nd hole here in 2006 famously cost him the one major championship he’s never won, is done, too, after going 79-74. Jordan Spieth shot 81 on Friday as his struggles to find his game continue. PGA champion Collin Morikawa needed a birdie on the last hole to make the cut. He left the putt short and is headed out of town.