Justin Thomas, who played with Dustin Johnson and Tiger Woods, had an insightful, firsthand perspective on what was going well and what was going wrong in the second round of the United States Open on Friday.
Of Johnson, who leads the championship by four strokes, Thomas said, “He’s just playing D.J. golf.”
“Dustin drives the ball really well,” Thomas said when asked to elaborate. “His distance control and his iron play are great. He had some great up-and-downs out of bunkers, and he’s putting well. So he pretty much has it all covered.”
Of Woods, who missed the cut with a 36-hole score of 10 over par, Thomas said, “He definitely didn’t have it.”
Thomas’s remarks captured the paradoxes of the second round at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club, where a handful of golfers flourished in challenging conditions while dozens of others were once again tormented by the heartless layout.
What that portends for the weekend in the 118th U.S. Open may be harder to predict. The tournament has defied convention despite being contested at an old-world golf club. As the sun set on the halfway point of the championship, there were seven former major champions in the top 20 of the leader board, but 14 major champions were going home.
With a sparkling round of 67, Johnson was the only golfer under par after the first two days of the event. Playing in the morning, when he faced chilly, windblown rain, Johnson followed up his first-round 69 with four birdies and just one bogey to reach four under par for the tournament. Charley Hoffman and Scott Piercy were tied for second place at even par.
Five golfers were at one over: Henrik Stenson, Justin Rose, Ian Poulter, Tommy Fleetwood and Brooks Koepka, the defending champion.
Fleetwood and Koepka each shot 66 to tie for the low second-round score.
For the vast majority of the field, however, there was one constant through the morning rain, the radiant midday sun and the intermittent clouds of the evening. The dense rough, deceptive topographical challenges and unforgiving greens of Shinnecock Hills continued to flummox the world’s best golfers.
The list of major champions missing the cut was a who’s who of elite golf: Woods, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Rory McIlroy, Bubba Watson, Sergio Garcia, Adam Scott, Martin Kaymer, Ernie Els, Keegan Bradley, Charl Schwartzel, Lucas Glover, Graeme McDowell and Danny Willett.
Unlike in his opening round on Thursday, when he shot an eight-over 78, Woods rebounded to play capably in the second. But a two-over 72, which included birdies on his two closing holes, was not enough of a rally to earn a spot moving forward. He has missed the cut only one other time in the 10 tournaments he has played this year, after returning to the game from his fourth back surgery.
During both rounds here, Woods’s weakness was one that has haunted him in recent weeks — and frequently in his pursuit of his first major championship since he won the 2008 U.S. Open. He has been unable to summon the putting magic that was a hallmark of his prime.
“I haven’t made those key putts to keep the momentum of a round going,” Woods said Friday. “Or, if I have any positive momentum, I miss a putt and derail it. And those are maybe the most critical putts.”
In a performance similar to Thursday’s, Johnson was consistent and, at times, brilliant. Although he bogeyed the first hole, he did not make another costly mistake, and along the way he birdied two of the most difficult holes on the course.
The seventh and the 11th holes — treacherous, uphill par 3s — have ruined many a round at Shinnecock Hills. But Johnson’s tee shot on No. 7 found the sloping green, and then he rolled in a 45-foot, downhill, breaking putt. At the short but devilish 11th hole, Johnson fired precisely at the flag and then made a birdie putt of nearly nine feet.