Dustin Johnson was the only one of the four players tied for the lead at the end of Thursday to go under par, and after one of the best rounds we've seen so far at Shinnecock Hills, he leads the 2018 U.S. Open by three strokes heading into the weekend.
Tommy Fleetwood and Brooks Koepka tied for the best round of the day -- and the best round of the tournament so far -- with a 4-under 66s but still trail D.J., who sits at 4-under overall after a 67. Ian Poulter had it rolling until a triple-bogey (with no penalty strokes) threw him off at the end of the day. Scott Piercy was solid but one-over on the day, and Russell Henley took the biggest fall of Thursday's leaders back to 2-over after a 73. Charley Hoffman and Brooks Koepka were impressive in the afternoon in their moves up the leaderboard, and Rickie Fowler finds himself in the top 10 even after a disappointing day on the greens.
But for all the jockeying among these golfers at the top, there's less intrigue in the eventual winner of this tournament. If DJ's game on the weekend comes close to resembling his stuff on Thursday afternoon and Friday morning, he's going to win.
Here's how the leaderboard looks heading into the weekend:
1. Dustin Johnson (-4): The wrinkle that could make this year's U.S. Open really unique for D.J.'s career arc is that he's not beating the field off the tee, he's beating them on and around the greens. There's going to be some gamesmanship between him and the field on Saturday, but if his short game is locked in again, he could up playing defense and still shooting 68 to extend the lead.
T2. Charley Hoffman (E): This has been a good week for Hoffman, whose had an up-and-down ride through 36 holes with six birdies and six bogeys. He's been solid enough to think he can hang shot-for-shot with the leader. The question is whether he'll be able to make up ground.
T2. Scott Piercy (E): A birdie at No. 9 was huge for Piercy at the end of a round that started on No. 10 with a three-bogey 38 on his first nine holes. By battling back with three birdies on the front side, Piercy has kept himself in contention to win instead of joining the pack just a few strokes over par.
T4. Ian Poulter (+1): Many players stress the importance of compartmentalization, isolating holes and rounds to focus on the task at hand and not allowing something to linger. Only Poulter will know the ultimate extent of his triple-bogey, bogey finish to Friday's action, but the immediate impact was falling from one shot off the lead to the middle of the pack and five strokes back. The key for Poulter will be erasing today's finish and coming strong with the same golf that had him 3-under par heading into his 35th hole of the tournament.
T4. Justin Rose (+1): Rose appreciates his position heading into the weekend, but his bogey-bogey finish to the day stings now knowing he could have been in solo second place and paired with Dustin Johnson for Saturday.
T4. Brooks Koepka (+1): The afternoon conditions played into the hands of players that could get aggressive and go for scores, and Koepka hit arguably the most favorable holes of the course and took advantage with four birdies over his final nine holes to match Tommy Fleetwood's 66 for the round of the day.
T4. Tommy Fleetwood (+1): It's not going to surprise anyone to see Fleetwood put together a low round. Those expectations come with being one of the world's best ball-strikers. The next step for Fleetwood in the direction of winning a major championship is finding a consistency with that elite level of play. If he can go low again on Saturday, he should be in striking distance of the lead.
T4. Henrik Stenson (+1): After three bogeys on the front nine, Stenson carded a birdie on No. 13 and an eagle on the par-5 No. 16 to work his way back to 1-over. While Stenson's been playing pretty well, the variance in scoring across his 71-70 makes a top-10 finish seem much more likely than making a run at D.J. for the win.
T9. Russell Henley, Rickie Fowler (+2): With multiple major winners on the leaderboard above them, this group is going to have to get aggressive in order to make a run at winning the tournament. Fowler's spot here, instead of at +1, is particularly painful after a bogey on his final hole of the day.
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