SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y., (Reuters) – Dustin Johnson moved closer to a second U.S. Open victory in three years, shrugging off the worst of the conditions to take a stranglehold on the U.S. Open with a four-shot second-round lead at Shinnecock Hills yesterday.
The overnight joint leader jumped clear with an assured three-under-par 67 on a day when the tournament lost considerable star wattage as Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods missed the cut.
“Today was really solid in some tough conditions,” Johnson said after posting a four-under 136 halfway total to head fellow Americans Charley Hoffman (69) and Scott Piercy (71).
A high-powered group of five stood next at one-over — defending champion Brooks Koepka, fellow major winners Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson, plus Englishmen Tommy Fleetwood and Ian Poulter
The straight-talking Poulter got within one shot of Johnson before running up a triple-bogey at his 17th hole, the par-four eighth, where he got too aggressive with a bunker shot. He nipped his ball too cleanly, air-mailing the green before compounded his problems by fluffing his next shot from a gnarly lie.
“I felt stupid knifing the first one (the bunker shot). I felt even more stupid semi-chunking the next one, and I didn’t do much better on the next one either,” said the always-quotable Poulter.
World number one Johnson endured no similar drama, largely by adopting a conservative strategy and taking few risks.
He capped off the day at his 16th hole, the par-three seventh, where he curled in a 45-foot birdie putt that trundled downhill before trickling in as fellow competitor Woods looked on with admiration and perhaps a tinge of envy.
“Dustin was in complete control of what he’s doing. He’s hitting the ball so flush and so solid,” Woods said.
“And he’s got beautiful speed on the greens. Every putt looked like it was going to go in.”
After strong winds sent scores soaring on Thursday, the breeze abated slightly but still blew strongly enough in the morning to make for a difficult test, with a light mid-morning rain making playing conditions miserable for an hour or so.
It was much easier in the afternoon, as the skies cleared, the wind all but died and the late starters charged onto the leaderboard, albeit still some distance adrift of Johnson.
“With the rain coming down and it was cooler, the golf ball was going nowhere. The course played really long,” said Johnson, a prodigiously-long hitter whose definition of “nowhere” is different to most.
The 2016 champion said he would stay with what got him a four-shot lead, namely taking his medicine after the inevitable bad tee shot.
“I’m going to stick to my game plan, stick to trying to play the holes how I have the first couple of days and see what happens.
“I’m just trying to get it back in play and then give myself just a look at par … limit the mistakes, especially limit the big numbers.
“I feel like, if I can get a look at par and not make any doubles, I’m going to make a couple birdies.
“I know I’m playing well, so as long as I can do that, then I’m going to shoot a pretty good score.”
Sixty-seven players made the cut, which fell at eight-over 148.