McDowell salvages some self respect on Day Two of US Open

Others also responded well in bid to catch leader Dustin Johnson at Shinnecock Hills

Graeme McDowell during the first round at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club  in Southampton, New York. Photograph: Rob Carr/Getty Images

Graeme McDowell during the first round at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club in Southampton, New York. Photograph: Rob Carr/Getty Images

 

Small mercies can be precious, and Graeme McDowell – who’d salvaged self-respect with a methodically crafted second round 70 in response to his opening, bewildering 79 to reach the midpoint on 149 – had a modicum of satisfaction that this 118th US Open hadn’t ruined his confidence for the days, weeks and months ahead.

“Thankfully I have managed to play decent tee-to-green and not get US Opened and walk away thinking I am not playing well,” said the Northern Irishman of a rescue operation that involved playing to his strengths, keeping the ball in play, on a course with the potential to open mental wounds into the sanest of minds.

That McDowell responded in the way he did proved a point to himself as much as to anyone else.

Yet, on another difficult day, this one compounded by unexpected rainfall for the morning starters, McDowell’s round wasn’t alone in offering such a response. Indeed, the 66 which Tommy Fleetwood conjured up, following up an opening round 75 , enabled the Englishman to leapfrog up the leaderboard to sit on 141 after 36 holes as all-comers were left chasing down world number one Dustin Johnson.

In Thursday’s first round, Fleetwood was among those late-starters who encountered crusty, unpredictable greens. The balls bounced and turned on even short putts, and some players left the course exasperated. One of Fleetwood’s traits is a mental capacity to put such matters behind him, and even when the rain came as if from nowhere midway through his second round, he found a strange sense of peace with the world.

“I do quite like it in sort of a funny way,” he said of playing in tough conditions. A son of Birkdale on England’s western seaboard with winds all too frequently blowing in off the Irish Sea, Fleetwood has crafted an ability to play in stiff winds.

Lot of patience

He added: “I don’t know. I like to think I can control my ball well (in the wind), but I still feel like I’m getting a lot better at it. And I think that some of (my) strengths, I have a lot of patience, and (in) the tougher the conditions, I feel like I can grind it out and will my way around a little bit. You’ve still got to play well, but all those go together in a good round if everything still applies. If you play bad, I still feel like I can keep it together and keep going. Whether I shoot 10 over or 66 today, I feel like, when the weather is bad, I kind of have that in me, the mental side.”

That mental fortitude stood Fleetwood, more than anyone well, in his second round as he made an upward move. Having topped the European Tour order of merit last year in claiming the Race to Dubai crown, the obvious next step for the 27-year-old is to aim – and claim – a Major. Five strokes behind Johnson, he has an uphill climb; but he has never been afraid of facing, and meeting, challenges.

“I do like the setup of a US Open. It is the ultimate test of golf in more ways than one. It tests your long game, short game, every aspect. It tests you mentally, physically. If you’re going to win a US Open, which is one of the biggest events in the world, it should be that kind of test,” claimed Fleetwood, not backing away from the task ahead.

Cool conditions

Fleetwood’s 66 bettered Johnson’s by one shot in a second round which was played in cool conditions, low-lying clouds bringing rain for a time to accentuate the challenge if offering at least the solace of slowing the greens and making them a little more receptive.

Another of those destined to be a part of Europe’s Ryder Cup team later this season also kept his hat in the ring for this title. Henrik Stenson, who claimed his breakthrough Major when out-duelling Phil Mickelson to claim the Claret Jug in 2016, shot a second round 70 to also sit on the 141 mark alongside Fleetwood.

Fleetwood and Stenson were among those eyeing the weekend forecast, eager to make a run at Johnson. For McDowell, though, it was a case of waiting to see if his number came up to make the cut (top 60 players and ties). He had his doubts, but also had his fingers-crossed that he would make it.

Of responding to an opening 79 with a 70 to at least have a chance of surviving into the weekend, McDowell admitted: “It was a good hang . . . but I have a long afternoon ahead of me. I think 9-over makes a great cheque on Sunday. If I can sneak in, I feel the way I am playing , yes, I can make a move on the weekend. Like I say, anything in single digits over par still has a great weekend here. I am hoping I can play two more rounds.”

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