We’re halfway home at the U.S. Open. You know who else is home? Rory McIlroy and Jason Day, two of the finest players in golf. Dustin Johnson, defending U.S. Open champion. Justin Rose, the guy who lost this year’s Masters in a playoff. Bubba Watson, owner of two green jackets. Erin Hills looked pretty the first two days of the Open, but it took no prisoners. Here’s what to watch as the second half of the tournament unfolds.
Rickie’s rebound. Rickie Fowler spent the first 28 holes of the U.S. Open looking like he was going to stroll to his first-ever major. Three straight bogeys and some ugly missed putts later, and he was two strokes off the lead. Fowler has taken heat for his ability to get close to the top but never claim the checkered flag at majors; he’s once again in an ideal position to make a run. He’s also helped by the fact that many of his highest-ranked contemporaries are either buried in the field or out of the tournament altogether. Now’s the chance for one of the most popular golfers of the 2010s to start cementing his legend.
New faces. Lots and lots of new faces. You might not know who Tommy Fleetwood, Brian Harman, Brooks Koepka, or Paul Casey are, but that’s fine. All you need to know is that these cats all shared a slice of the lead at the U.S. Open as Friday wrapped up, and all head into the weekend in a position to alter the entire trajectory of their careers. So what if they have only four PGA Tour tournament wins between them? Every major winner had to start with one. (Plus, don’t forget the brilliantly-named Cameron Champ, a 22-year-old amateur who’s hitting the longest drives of anyone.)
Major winners lurking. You’ve got to look a ways down the leaderboard to find guys who’ve been here before, but don’t sleep on Martin Kaymer (2010 PGA Championship, 2014 U.S. Open winner) and Sergio Garcia (2017 Masters winner … yeah, still feels weird to say that). Both are four strokes back of the lead, well within striking distance of the top of the leaderboard with a favorable few holes on Saturday. Also, don’t overlook Hideki Matsuyama, who was nothing short of astonishing earlier this year and fired one of the lowest rounds to par in U.S. Open history on Friday.
More low numbers. If you’ve ever wondered what a British Open would look like without howling winds and sideways rain, well, Erin Hills is for you. The fearsome winds that would protect this course never arrived, and the rain that drenched the course over the week slowed the greens down to a crawl. With more rain expected Friday night and Saturday, and wind not expected to top seven miles an hour, we’re looking at a Saturday where someone, probably several someones, can break double figures below par, which is just a ridiculous score at a U.S. Open. Expect the USGA to hide the Sunday pin positions under grandstands if that happens.
Tough news. This tournament has had a E.coli outbreak, a blimp plummeting to earth, and, most tragically, a 94-year-old patron passing away at the course. Let’s hope that the remainder of the newsworthy stories remain inside the ropes going forward.
Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports and the author of EARNHARDT NATION, on sale now at Amazon or wherever books are sold. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or find him on Twitter or on Facebook.