Belt-tightening time, for the ride at this 115th edition of the US Open Championship – on greens which Henrik Stenson described as "borderline laughable" and akin to "putting on broccoli" – is all set for a madcap final two rounds with no fewer than 25 players within six shots of the midway lead jointly held by Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed.
And the 36-hole leaders Spieth and Reed only had to look over their shoulders for a bunched field that contrasted sharply with last year's affair at Pinehurst where Martin Kaymer was a runaway winner. This time, the German was among those to miss out.
Reed had an opportunity to hold the halfway lead on his own, only to suffer a three-putt bogey on the 18th which left him signing for a 69 to join Masters champion Spieth on five-under-par 135. Others, too, suffered coming in: Dustin Johnson, for one, finished with three successive bogeys to lie a shot further back on 136, and Stenson also three-putted his finishing hole, the ninth, for a bogey that brought an end to a tough day.
Of those later finishers, the Swede was most critical of the course. “It is what it is,” he started, before expanding: “The major championships is about a mental test and how well you can keep yourself in balance and I kind of lost patience . . . . I hit a lovely shot into (the ninth) and was putting down on something that looked like the surface of the moon and three-putted.”
With rounds again edging towards six hours, patience was a key factor for those seeking to claim the title and few handled things as well as Spieth. At 21, he is seeking to become the youngest player since Gene Sarazen in 1922 to win multiple majors and the first player to win back-to-back US Masters and US Opens since Tiger Woods achieved the feat in 2002.
Spieth, the world number two, recovered from a double-bogey on the 18th, his ninth, to sign for a 67 that moved him into prime position. Remarkably, given his age, he is the only player in the top-16 at the halfway stage to have won a Major!
Thankfully, it appeared that Jason Day – who was in Spieth's three-ball – had recovered from spells of vertigo which affected him as he finished his round. The Australian suffered dizzy spells on the ninth, his finishing hole, and received on-course medical treatment and was subsequently attended by doctors.
Spieth's Ryder Cup colleague Reed wasn't too happy with a round that finished with a three-putt bogey and in which he failed to make an up-and-down. "I was zero percent (on scrambling). I hit the ball in the middle of the green on 18 and have no chance to putt a normal putt and stop it near the hole and have to play Mickey Moust golf to try to make par. Unfortunately, it's a bad way to end the day," lamented Reed.
For sure, it is a wide-open tournament for those who have made the cut with the chance to make Saturday’s third round a true moving day. “It’s definitely a tournament that anyone has a chance to win. It seems like, until the 72nd hole is done, it’s anybody’s game. I just have to go in and take it hole-by-hole, shot-by-shot, and hopefully at the end have a shot,” said Reed.
World number one Rory McIlroy survived into the weekend with a shot to spare, after the cutline fell at five-over-par 145. American amateur Nick Hardy needed a par on his finishing hole to keep the cut at plus-four, but a bogey there opened the door for those on five-over – among them Sergio Garcia, Ian Poulter and Webb Simpson – with 75 players making it to the weekend.
McIlroy’s round finally exploded into some life with an eagle two on the drivable Par 4 12th hole but, if that seemed as if it would provide the catalyst to leapfrog through the field, it didn’t quite work that way: the Northern Irishman suffered a bogey on the next hole, the 13th, and although he responded with a birdie on the 15th he suffered a double-bogey on the 17th and bogeyed the 18th to sign for a second 72 for 144, nine shots back.
Shane Lowry, in tied-12th on 139 after a second round 70, made his first ever cut in the US Open. "There's a lot of golf to be played yet. If I can just go out, keep doing my own thing, I am driving the ball, my iron play feels good. You never know what might happen come Sunday," said Lowry, happy to have a late tee-time and his sights on the likes of Spieth and Reed four shots ahead of him.
Leading 36-hole Totals 135 (-5) – Jordan Spieth (USA), Patrick Reed(USA) 136 (-4) – Brendan Grace (SA), Dustin Johnson (USA) 137 (-3) – Joost Luiten (Neths), Tony Finau (USA), Daniel Summerhays (USA), Ben Martin (USA) 138 (-2) – Jamie Lovemark (USA), Jason Day (Aus), JB Holmes (USA)
Irish totals 139 (-1) – Shane Lowry 69,70 144 (+4) – Rory McIlroy 72, 72
Missed Cut 148 (+8) – Graeme McDowell 74, 74 157 (+13) – Darren Clarke 77, 80