The five most important things to watch on what could be a wild weekend at the U.S. Open

The five most important things to watch on what could be a wild weekend at the U.S. Open

8: 11 PM ET

  • uggetti paolo

    Paolo UggettiESPN

BROOKLINE, Mass. — In the midst of a tenuous time for golf, Brooks Koepka said earlier this week he wanted the focus to be on the U.S. Open. After two rounds, with Phil Mickelson now gone after having missed the cut, it’s safe to say that the focus has shifted back to golf thanks to some big names and unique stories.

So let’s oblige Koepka.

Here are five things to watch for heading into the weekend at The Country Club:

Loaded at the top

For a moment on Friday, the game’s top players were absent from the top of the leaderboard. But as the wind died down in the afternoon, four players ranked in the top 10 in the world made moves.

After salvaging a double bogey with a marvelous 25-foot putt on the third hole, Rory McIlroy heads into Saturday one shot off the lead. McIlroy’s frustration and passion on a few holes this week show that he doesn’t just want the eight-year-old major drought to end, but believes he can. McIlroy’s game is primed for success after his big win at RBC Heritage last week. He played alongside LIV Golf London debutant, Collin Morikawa

to secure his third major and first U.S. Open.

Meanwhile, Collin Morikawa is trying to win his third major and first U.S. Open after putting together a tournament-best 66 on Friday to vault himself to the top of the leaderboard. Morikawa stated earlier this week that his game was not at its best because he couldn’t hit a fade. It doesn’t seem to be hurting him if that’s true. Jon Rahm, the defending U.S. Open champion who played alongside Morikawa on Friday, and nearly matched him. The Spaniard’s 67, helped by an eagle at the 14th, places him just one shot back. Rahm said that the leaderboard, which notably includes players who have remained committed to the PGA Tour, is a testament to the game’s health and state. It’s amazing to see Rory back and forth — it’s not as if he ever went anywhere. Scottie doing what’s been his year, Collin doing the same thing he does every year, and me doing what I always try to, as well. It’s a lot of fun for us all because we all want the best and to beat the best. “

McIlroy answered a question about the loaded leaderboard by saying, “It’s why I play.” “

Scheffler in the shadows

Before anyone could fully realize it, the world No.1 was suddenly tied for the clubhouse lead Friday. Scheffler started the day at even par but dropped to 2-over in the first half. He then turned the tables and is now only 2 shots behind. Scheffler is now in a prime position heading into the weekend with two birdies and a hole out eagle on his back nine.

As Scheffler himself will tell you, he likes the fact that even though he’s the top player in the world, he’s not the talk of the tour in the same way McIlroy and PGA champion Justin Thomas have been the past few weeks.

” I feel like I’m a bit of an under-the radar person,” Scheffler said after winning the Masters in April. “I’ve been No. “I’ve been No. 1 in the world for a while, and it doesn’t really feel like that. “

” I can show up and do what I want, then go home to rest,” Scheffler stated.

So far, it seems that this is working. Scheffler’s performance over the past two days has been inconsistent, but he’s still in the thick of it heading into Saturday. But if Scheffler wins again and becomes the first player to win two majors in one year since Brooks Koepka won two in 2018, it’ll be hard for him to keep staying under the radar.

The other guys

While the leaderboard got filled with top players in the afternoon wave, there were still some relative unknowns lurking. Morikawa’s lead is shared with 34-year-old Joel Dahmen.

Dahmen may not be an unknown – he has three PGA Tour victories – but his performance at the U.S. Open has been remarkable. Dahmen tweeted last Monday that he had just qualified to the U.S. Open, and needed a place for his stay. He will be there all weekend and could win a lot of money and a trophy.

Hayden Buckley is making only his second major appearance after missing the cut at last year’s U.S. Open. Buckley is a Korn Ferry Tour alum who is ranked 259th in the world. He has three professional wins.

Nick Hardy, also by way of the Korn Ferry Tour, only has a bit more experience: He has played in just three majors in his career. He missed the cut at two of them and finished 52nd at the 2015 U.S. Open. He found out he was in the field last Friday. He’s now 3 under and two behind the leader.

Matthew Nesmith is the 168th-ranked player in the world. This is only his second major appearance (he missed the cut in 2015). Yet, he’s been fueled by his iron game and put together two sub-70 rounds and stands just 3 shots off the lead heading into the weekend.

” I didn’t know if my game could match up against the big hitters from far away,” Nesmith stated. “But if I put myself in play, my iron game can shine. That’s where I like to live, hit a few greens and see how we can do it on weekends. “

You don’t want to be in seventh place

As stat guru Justin Ray pointed out on Twitter on Friday, 25 of the past 26 U.S. Open winners have been tied for sixth or better after two rounds. That’s enough of a trend to make seventh place – or worse – the spot you don’t want to be headed into the weekend.That’s not good for Scheffler (T-7), Matt Fitzpatrick, Sam Burns (T-13) and more. This weekend could be an exception to the rule. Scheffler’s record speaks volumes. Sam Burns, who is in the same rental house as Scheffler this week, is also playing well as of late; he’s cracked the top-10 in the world for the first time in his career. Burn stated that he is following Scheffler even though he isn’t playing alongside him.

“I’m a little upset that he beat me by one,” Burns smiled Friday. “Obviously he’s had a fantastic year, and it’s kind of motivated me to try to play a little bit better and try to keep up with him

Fitzpatrick has an obvious familiarity with the venue after winning the 2013 U.S. Amateur at Brookline.

” I tried to have no expectations going into this week,” Fitzpatrick stated after Thursday’s round. “I just want the week to be enjoyable, having played here so well nine years ago. I have great memories of the place. I can see shots I hit and places I was. Because of this, I feel a little more relaxed. I don’t want to put pressure on myself. It’s a course I know I can play well on, so I’m trying to enjoy it. “

The LIV update

As much as Koepka would like the focus to be off LIV, it’s hard to do just that when it’s been the hottest topic at The Country Club this week. After two rounds, only four of the 15 LIV players (including Bryson DeChambeau and Patrick Reed, who committed to play in the next LIV event in Portland) made the cut. Dechambeau, Reed, Richard Bland and Dustin Johnson all are playing the weekend; none are under par.

Johnson, who is ranked 16th in the world, has been the best of the bunch. He’s 1 over and tied for 31st after following up an opening round 68 with a 73.

Johnson stated that he hasn’t noticed any change in fan reaction since he left for LIV. Johnson said that he hasn’t noticed any difference in fan reaction since he left for LIV. “

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