SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. -- It's a U.S. Open, so obviously through two rounds the star of the event is the course. This year, however, it's for the right reasons. Following mini-meltdowns at Chambers Bay (too unpredictable!) and Erin Hills (too easy!), Shinnecock has been spectacular through two days of the second major of 2018.
It has withstood every element -- wind rain, cold, heat -- and it has proven itself a worthy adversary against pretty much everyone. It has also delivered us a top-notch leaderboard headlined by the best player in the game today -- full of ball-striking, all-around stars. There have been pokes and nudges from the world's top players, but at the end of two days, they've even had to admit that Shinnecock is immense.
"... The golf course is certainly gettable," said Tiger Woods, who shot 78-72 to miss the cut. "They give you plenty of room. These greens are soft. They're poa, so a little bit bouncy, but they're soft. They're receptive. You can take on some of these flags if you want to."
Few did. Only two golfers are under par through two days at Shinnecock. I can think of no better proof that a course is doing its job than if maybe the best golfer of all time says it's gettable and yet nobody is getting it.
"When you're out of position on this golf course and, you know, you're trying not to make another mistake and another mistake and you kind of are, you know, it just looks really stupid," Ian Poulter said.
"This golf course. There's not many birdies," said Brooks Koepka, who made six of them in the second round. "There's a disaster around every corner. I mean, all it takes is one shot in the fescue, and you could be in there for a while."
Several golfers were trapped, including Russell Henley, who made a triple-bogey 7 on the par-4 3rd hole.
"Couldn't see my ball," Henley said. "I could only see it if I kind of ducked down to the right. Maybe I should have practiced that shot more, just chipping out in the practice rounds. I thought that I hit the right shot every time, and it's just difficult."
Disappearing balls! Gettable holes! Disaster around every corner. Shinnecock has it all, and has proved what many said about her before the week started: That this property is one of the best championship tracks in the entire United States. Sure, it had help on Thursday (wind) and early on Friday (rain and cold), but it's not as if players were treating it like the John Deere Classic even in perfect weather on Friday afternoon.
Justin Rose, who is currently inside the top five and prepped for a run at what would be his second U.S. Open victory, warned that the fun might be over after Thursday and Friday. He confirmed what Woods said about soft, receptive greens which often lead to birdie opportunities.
"I feel like we kind of keep waiting for this course to firm up and get really, really tough," said Rose after shooting even-par 70. Foreboding, to be sure, that maybe the U.S. Open, the one that causes weeping and gnashing of teeth, has yet to begin.
Here are nine takeaways from Round 2.
1. Ryder Cup fun: As my colleague Chip Patterson pointed out to me, the top of this leaderboard is a "who plays which match" at the Ryder Cup exercise. The U.S. has Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka and Rickie Fowler currently in the top 10. Europe counters with Tommy Fleetwood, Henrik Stenson, Justin Rose and Ian Poulter. Several of them will likely be paired together on Saturday and even into Sunday, which should be delightful for the well-mannered contingent sure to make their way out from New York City.
2. D.J.'s strokes gained: How good was D.J. over the first two days? He got the hard side of the draw and still beat the field average by 14.2 (!) strokes., but if you touch 20 strokes gained on the field by the end of the week, you win 95 percent of the time. He nearly touched that after two days, which means he has a lot of breathing room over the final 36 holes.
Phil watched some of DJ on TV this morning and said it reminded him of Tiger at Pebble in 2000. High praise.— Will Gray (@WillGrayGC) June 15, 2018
3. How does it compare to Erin Hills? Speaking of strokes gained relative to par, how about these stats. After last year's crooked U.S. Open at Erin Hills in which the winner was eventually 16 under, how does this proper U.S. Open compare at the halfway point?
- 36-hole lead at Erin Hills: 137
- 36-hole lead at Shinnecock: 136
- Average score at Erin Hills: 146.6
- Average score at Shinnecock: 150.2
People lose their minds about the score to par, and thus the USGA may never deem a course a par of 72 ever again. It's true that scores at Shinnecock are slightly higher, but the leading score is lower, and Shinnecock has actually gotten the weather Erin Hills thought it was going to get. Mostly, I use these numbers to point out the fact that par is a social construct and essentially meaningless other than to keep track of where players are at any given time.
4. Undone in a hurry: Russell Henley was in second place at the U.S. Open when he stepped to the tee at the 3rd hole. A couple of fescue hacks later and a pair of putts from 30 feet, and he'd tumbled down the leaderboard a bit with a triple bogey. Leaders seem stable until they aren't, and one shot can unwind a great round more quickly at a U.S. Open than any other tournament in the world. The same thing happened to Ian Poulter, who took a triple bogey-bogey finish to go from 2 under to 2 over faster than he'll be able to drive his Ferrari home on Friday.
5. Fleetwood the Flusher: My gosh, Tommy Fleetwood! His round-of-the-week 66 came in conditions in the morning where scores shot up to 74, which means he was eight (!) strokes better than the field average in the morning wave. A remarkable number that has him staring at contention (if you call trying to run down Dustin Johnson from behind "contention") over the final 36 holes.
6. Scott Gregory rebounds: Scott Gregory!, which was the second score of 90 or worse at a U.S. Open this century. He bounced back with a 75 on Friday and nearly extradited himself from last place. It's not exactly clutching up down the stretch for your first major win, but what he did takes a little panache, too.
Shoutout to Scott Gregory for throwing up a 75 a day after posting 92. Laughed about it, dusted himself off, and finished with pride. 👏— No Laying Up (@NoLayingUp) June 15, 2018
7. Felt (and looked) like a British Open: I walked with Tiger, D.J. and J.T. during the morning round, and it was legitimately chilly. And that was before it started raining and blowing. Thursday was tougher because it was gustier, but Friday wasn't a cakewalk. Players might prefer the rain and cold (because it softens greens) to perfect weather, which sometimes leads to greens like oak tables.
8. Mild improvement from featured group: After Jordan Spieth, Phil Mickelson and Rory McIlroy played Thursday's Round 1 in 25 over, they played Friday in even par, and piled up some stunning stats in the process. Spieth birdied four straight holes on the back nine, but still shot 1-over 36 on that side and missed the cut. McIlroy shot a 31 (!) on the back and missed the cut by two strokes. And Phil Mickelson has hit 26-of-28 fairways through two days, and is somehow 10 strokes back of the lead!
Thursday versus Friday: 25-stroke improvement— Mike O'Malley (@GD_MikeO) June 15, 2018
9. How far back? Nobody meets the criteria below because the closest golfers to Johnson (-4) are Scott Piercy (E) and Charley Hoffman (E). There are big name contenders -- Fleetwood (+1), Henrik Stenson (+1), Justin Rose (+1), Brooks Koepka (+1), Rickie Fowler (+2) -- but they're going to have to climb Mt. D.J. over the final two days. And let's be honest, that's probably not going to happen.
Good morning from Shinnecock Hills. 21 of the last 22 U.S. Open champions were at or within 2 shots of the lead after 36 holes.— Justin Ray (@JustinRayGC) June 15, 2018