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Round 2 Review: U.S. Open

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Round 2 Review: U.S. Open

A look at some of the big stories from Friday



    Written by Paul Hodowanic @PaulHodowanic

    THE LEADER

    Sometimes we forget that Rickie Fowler truly, genuinely expects to be here.

    The much-loved 34-year-old finished top-five in all four major championships in 2014, and he has notched 12 career top-10 showings in majors. His well-rounded game, suited for golf’s biggest stages, can sometimes be overlooked as fans and media wonder whether his brand recognition exceeds his talent.


    Rickie Fowler takes solo lead by one going into weekend at U.S. Open


    In a career that includes five TOUR wins, including the 2015 PLAYERS Championship, one of the game’s four biggest titles still eludes him. The questions represent a fair critique of his overall place in the game.

    Fowler intends to rectify that. Maybe as soon as this week.

    With rounds of 62-68 to open the 123rd U.S. Open, Fowler leads into the weekend at The Los Angeles Country Club at 10-under 130. His week has been punctuated by fireworks, with 18 birdies in 36 holes. On Thursday, he set a U.S. Open single-round scoring record (tied by Xander Schauffele just two groups later), and he kept the pedal down on an increasingly firm Friday afternoon at LACC. He made 10 birdies on Thursday and added eight on Friday.

    This is no fluke. Fowler entered this week with 10 top-20 finishes in his last 12 TOUR starts. With a retooled putter, he has gained nearly two strokes on the greens through two rounds, at a course unfamiliar to the majority of the field.

    Fowler is one stroke clear of Wyndham Clark into the weekend, two clear of Rory McIlroy and Xander Schauffele. He expects to be here, and he is.

    Now we see if he has what it takes to hoist a major championship trophy.

    “Appreciation, gratitude,” said Fowler of his position into the weekend at LACC. “(2014) and (2015) were very good, (2018) being another solid year; I would say now I’m in a better position than any of those years. I really haven't, I feel like, played to my capabilities yet, and knowing what I've been able to salvage and still get some solid finishes and putting myself in contention, I just feel like I'm getting older, so I'm more mature. I do feel like I'm in a better position with my game now than I was back then.


    Rickie Fowler interview after Round 2 at U.S. Open


    “I'm looking forward to continuing to challenge myself and go out there and try and execute the best I can.”

    STORYLINES

    Clark comfortable in contention: Wyndham Clark rose the ranks as a natural talent, the 2017 Pac-12 Player of the Year at Oregon, with great expectations bestowed upon him. He earned his PGA TOUR card in his first full season as a pro.

    After a few years on TOUR and struggles reaching the winner’s circle, though, the joy of the game had been reduced. To rectify matters, he began working with a sport psychologist, dove into books like “The Energy Bus” by Jon Gordon, and vowed to make a lasting attitude adjustment.

    “It was either that or quit,” Clark said earlier this year. “I just wasn’t having any fun.”

    Clark’s renewed approach led to his first TOUR title at last month’s Wells Fargo Championship, and it has led him to a legitimate chance at this week’s U.S. Open. The Colorado native has opened in rounds of 64-67 at The Los Angeles Country Club, solo second into the weekend at 9 under, one back of 36-hole leader Rickie Fowler.

    Clark turned in a 3-under 32 on Friday morning, carding birdies on Nos. 10, 14 and 16, and he countered a bogey at the par-3 fourth hole with a birdie at the par-5 eighth. The long-hitting 29-year-old has made his mark on the greens so far at LACC, gaining nearly three strokes on the field.


    Wyndham Clark buries birdie putt from 45 feet at U.S. Open


    And it has earned him a spot in Saturday’s final group as he pursues his first major title.

    “Just learning that I can do it is huge, and I have the confidence that I know I can,” Clark said of the mental benefits of his Wells Fargo title. “I feel comfortable where I’m at, and hopefully I can keep it going on the weekend.”

    McIlroy in prime position again: Stop if you’ve read this before. Rory McIlroy is back in contention looking to end his major championship drought. The 34-year-old Irishman has finished worse than eighth just once in his last seven major appearances as he chases his first title since 2014. He’s going to have another prime chance at The Los Angeles Country Club this week.

    A superb front nine, his second nine, helped McIlroy card a second-round 67 that moved him to 8-under. He carded six birdies and a bogey over the final nine-hole stretch, making up for a lackluster 2-over start.

    LACC’s front nine has been McIlroy’s playground through 36 holes, with 11 birdies to just one bogey. He’s made two birdies and five bogeys on the back nine. And it was the front-nine stretch that buoyed his round Friday. It started at the par-5 first where he two-putted from 55 feet for birdie. He added another at No. 3, wedging one to 10 feet and converting the putt. A bogey at the difficult par-3 fourth was quickly erased with back-to-back birdies, first draining a 22-foot putt on the fifth, then holing a delicate 6-footer down the hill on the sixth.

    An exquisite, long-iron shot on the par-5 eighth left him just 21 feet for eagle that he cozied up next to the hole for an easy birdie. McIlroy nearly jarred his tee shot on the par-3 ninth for a hole-in-one but settled for a 3-footer for birdie to complete his round. Will this be the major McIlroy finally converts? He’s given himself as good a chance as any headed into the weekend.

    “No one wants me to win another major more than I do. The desire is obviously there. I've been trying and I've come close over the past nine years or whatever it is, and I keep coming back,” McIlroy said. “I feel like I've showed a lot of resilience in my career, a lot of ups and downs, and I keep coming back. And whether that means that I get rewarded or I get punched in the gut or whatever it is, I'll always keep coming back.”

    Bennett back in a big spot: Doubt Sam Bennett at your peril. He’s warned you before. “I know that my good golf is good enough,” the 23-year-old said back at the Masters when he found himself in the final group on the weekend.

    His debut as a professional came just two weeks ago at the Memorial Tournament presented by Workday. Another big spot for the Texas A&M grad. He was quick to brush it off. “I mean, it's cool, but this is right where I want to be,” he said with a quiet confidence that’s become his calling card.

    So it should be no surprise that the free-flowing, equanimous Bennett is back in the mix in a big spot. A second-round 68 moved him 5-under for the tournament in the thick of it headed into the weekend.

    “I'm just ball-striking this course to death,” he said.

    Bennett, who recently finished fifth in the PGA TOUR University rankings, was as solid as can be Friday. After six straight pars to start, Bennett birdied the 555-yard par-4 16th after he stuck his 233-yard approach shot to 11 feet. He capitalized with birdies on the two easiest holes of the front nine, the accessible par-5 first and the drivable par-4 sixth, each time leaving himself with putts inside 4 feet. The only blemish was an airmailed tee shot on the 299-yard par-3 seventh that left him in a tricky spot and unable to get up and down for par.

    “I don’t know,” Bennett said when asked what his goal was for the week. “I didn't really have a goal. I mean, to win. I put myself in a situation, I find myself in a good spot going into the weekend, then I'm really excited to tee it up tomorrow.”

    NOTABLES

    Scottie Scheffler (67-68): The world No. 1, whose putter selection was of much consternation to the golf world early-week, is firmly in the mix as he seeks a second major title. After turning to the front nine Friday afternoon (having started in 1-over 36 on LACC's more demanding back side), Scheffler carded a bogey-free, 3-under 32 to move within five of the lead. He stands +2:12 in Strokes Gained: Approach, but perhaps more encouraging is his +0.18 Strokes Gained: Putting into the weekend.

    Max Homa (68-76, MC): It was a heartbreaking Friday for the LA native who won the 2013 Pac-12 individual title at LACC, undone by consecutive double bogeys at Nos. 17 and 18 before making the turn, and a second-nine, 1-over 36 left him two outside the cut line. The world No. 7 remains in search of his first top-10 finish at a major.

    Xander Schauffele (62-70): After matching Fowler for the lowest single-round score in U.S. Open history on Thursday, his second round hit a skid with three consecutive bogeys on Nos. 13-15, but he closed with back-to-back birdies at the lengthy par-4 17th and 18th holes to claw within two strokes of Fowler into Saturday. The California kid, who has notched 10 top-10s in majors, is well positioned to chase his first major title.


    Xander Schauffele’s nice iron shot and closing birdie at U.S. Open


    Xander Schauffele interview after Round 2 at U.S. Open


    Gordon Sargent (69-71): The rising Vanderbilt junior and 2022 NCAA individual champion continues to impress, advancing to the weekend at LACC to bring his PGA TOUR University Accelerated total to 16 points, accruing 1 point for his U.S. Open start and another for making the cut. He would earn 2 more points for a top-20 finish. He stands T30 into the third round.

    Justin Thomas (73-81, MC): The two-time major champion never found a rhythm this week and finished better than just three players in the 156-man field. Still, he met the media after Friday’s second round to discuss a “humiliating” performance that left him 12 strokes off the cut line.

    Harris English (67-66): The 33-year-old Georgia alum made five birdies in a front-nine 30 Friday, his second nine, to storm into the mix for his first major title. He has finished top-four in two of the last three U.S. Opens (fourth in 2020; third in 2021) and he’s at it again.


    Harris English drills home 80-foot birdie putt at U.S. Open


    Jordan Spieth: (72-71, MC): Three bogeys in his last six holes had Spieth on the wrong side of the projected cut line. It is only his third missed cut at a major championship since 2018. The Texan showed signs of strong form, finishing second earlier this year at the RBC Heritage and fifth at the Memorial Tournament presented by Workday, but he have to wait until The Open Championship in July for another chance at his fourth major championship after a disappointing finish at LACC.

    Matt Fitzpatrick (71-70): The defending U.S. Open champion will be around for the weekend at LACC, thanks in large part to a hole-in-one at the par-3 15th, the hole's third ace of the week.

    Dustin Johnson (64-70): A quadruple bogey on the par-4 second hole threatened to derail a promising week, however, the 38-year-old rebounded with four birdies over his final 11 holes to claw his way back into the championship.

    Charley Hoffman (71-67): Without a top-10 finish this season, the 46-year-old Southern California native put on a show with five birdies Friday, comfortably advancing to the weekend for the eighth time in nine U.S. Open appearances.

    Phil Mickelson (69-74, MC): The six-time major champion will need to wait another year in his quest to complete the career Grand Slam. Mickelson, 53, struggled with five bogeys and a double bogey Friday to post 3-over total, one stroke off the eventual cut line.

    Min Woo Lee (69-65): The 24-year-old Australian made six birdies Friday against one bogey, his day punctuated by a 4-foot birdie at the 490-yard, par-4 18th, for the day's low score. The TOUR Special Temporary Member would activate full status with a win.

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