When Graeme McDowell checked the local weather forecast for Shinnecock Hills Golf Club on Friday, he was lulled into expecting mild conditions and cloudy skies.
Threat of rain? No chance. Well, the weatherman was wrong. The skies opened up early in the second round, adding to the challenge at the 118th U.S. Open.
McDowell was caught without waterproofs or an umbrella and he wasn’t alone. Tiger Woods borrowed an umbrella from someone at Fox Sports and a friend of Ernie Els hustled to deliver rain gear to him and fellow competitors Jim Furyk and Webb Simpson.
“There was a zero percent chance of rain today and it was wet,” McDowell said. “I could’ve done with an umbrella to keep dry. But it’s like Ireland, isn’t it? We’re right here on an island surrounded by an ocean and it’s pretty hard to predict weather.”
McDowell weathered the storm and salvaged a round of even-par 70 for a 36-hole aggregate of 9-over 149, and hovering around the projected cut line at 8 over. The top-60 finishers and ties will play the weekend.
“I think I want to play two more rounds this weekend. I’m not sure. No, I do. I do want to go play some more,” joked McDowell, who expected a long afternoon wait to learn his fate.
Irishman Shane Lowry won’t have that luxury after touring Shinnecock in 9-over 79 and signing for a 36-hole total of 14-over 154. Lowry cut a frustrated pose as he answered a handful of questions post-round. His putter was his undoing. He had a 3-putt and a 4-putt on Thursday when he hit 13 of 18 greens in regulation. It was more of the same on Friday, beginning with a 3 putt on his first hole and Lowry failed to make a single birdie for the round.
“This place will beat you up on your best of days,” Lowry said.
Joining him with the weekend off are Tiger Woods, who followed up a 78 on Thursday with a 72 (+10), Adam Scott (+13), Sergio Garcia and Jon Rahm (+14) and Ernie Els (+17). Rory McIlroy was headed to join them after shooting 4-over 39 on his opening nine holes on Friday and stood at +14.
Despite his struggles, Lowry conceded that there were good scores to be had on Friday, and no one played better in the morning wave than Englishman Tommy Fleetwood, who fired a 4-under 66. Fleetwood was 6 over through 15 holes of his opening round, but made six birdies on Friday to improve to 1-over 141.
“It was windy and it was cold and the rain was coming down, and I was literally counting holes down and trying to survive and make pars,” he said. “Brightened up a little bit and then I made some birdies towards the end.”
Fleetwood is searching for his first major title and chasing Dustin Johnson, who carded a 3-under 67 and grabbed the lead in the clubhouse at 4-under 136. It’s a familiar position for Johnson, who won the Open in 2016 at Oakmont and finished runner-up in 2015 among four top-10 finishes in the championship.
“He’s the hottest player in the world right now,” McDowell said. “It’s not surprising to see him up there.”
Afterwards, Johnson explained what it is he likes about the playing in tough conditions at the Open.
“You’ve got to play really good golf if you want to shoot a good score, and I like where par is a good score on every hole no matter what club you got in your hand, what hole it is,” he said.
Johnson won last week’s FedEx St. Jude Classic on the PGA Tour and regained his title as World No. 1 after Justin Thomas had briefly dethroned him from the top spot. No golfer has ever won the U.S. Open after winning a PGA Tour event the previous week.
In May, prior to The Players Championship, Butch Harmon, Johnson’s instructor, was asked on the Golf Channel what Johnson needed to do to regain the No. 1 ranking.
“I think he’s got to work a little harder. He’s got to go back to the things he was doing then,” Harmon said, referring to his dominant stretch of play leading up the 2017 Masters.
In an interview with Fox Sports, Harmon said he was criticized for his comments, but they served their purpose.
“I said that because I wanted him to hear that, and he did,” Harmon said.
Thomas, who slipped to World No. 2, played alongside Thomas in the first two rounds and said Johnson was playing “DJ golf.” What exactly does that entail, he was asked.
“It’s just really good and really consistent,” Thomas said. “He drives the ball really well. His distance control and his iron, his flights are great. And he’s a very underrated bunker player. So pretty much, he’s got it all covered, I think.”
For anyone to catch him, it will take someone playing his own version of DJ Golf because Shinnecock Hills is relenting. McDowell, who compared the conditions in the first round to being punched in the face, said he was proud that he managed to make a few birdies on Friday and land a few blows of his own.
“I don’t know if it is feeling the pain from me today,” McDowell said. “It’s still 1 up yesterday. Actually, it’s like 4 up on me.”
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