LOS ANGELES — You can do all the logical gymnastics you want—it identified the best players! The shot values were awesome!—but the simple fact is that no one wanted to see two 62s, on the same day, in the U.S. Open. It's no surprise, then, that the USGA did its best to make Los Angeles Country Club's North course a stiffer test on Friday. Within reason, that is. They bumped up the speed of the greens and only watered the course in certain spots. Still, they weren't about to let this bleed into Shinnecock territory.
John Bodenhammer, in charge of course setup, said Thursday that they could make the course "stupid hard" but they don't want to. As such, we saw yet another day of low scoring on Friday. Not as jarring as Thursday, granted, but still: a 65, two 66s and seven 67s.
All but two of those rounds came in the morning, when cloud cover kept the greens receptive again. There is scar tissue among USGA officials, for sure, the product of years of players bashing on them for the cardinal sin of making golf courses too hard. And so they err on the side of caution, often depending on Mother Nature to provide some punch. That never happened on Thursday; the marine layer never burned off, which kept the greens soft all day long. The sun finally broke through around 1 pm on Friday and that, combined with a stiffer afternoon breeze, dried the course out significantly. The primetime television coverage looked more like what you'd expect from a U.S. Open—balls trickling out, then trickling out some more, nasty lies in bunkers, the world's best players fist-pumping par saves.
Rickie Fowler didn't have much time for pars on Friday. The whole week, really. A day after he made 10 birdies en route to shooting the first 62 in U.S. Open history—a record he kept for all of 22 minutes—Fowler made eight more on Friday to offset six bogeys, and his two-under 68 has him atop the leaderboard by his lonesome. He sits at 10 under total, one shot ahead of Wells Fargo champion Wyndham Clark, who followed up a 64 with a three-under 67. Clark came into the week with three goals.
"Yeah, pretty simple," Clark said. "For me it was, enjoy myself at a beautiful golf course. It was, be cocky out there. It was, remind myself of the first two."
Back to Rickie. He'd be a fitting champion this week: golf's commercial king completing a slow-but-steady comeback in the shadows of Tinseltown. He was serenaded all day with chants of Rickie! Rickie! but the chants aren't very loud. It's been a theme this week—this U.S. Open has a very corporate feel, with massive hospitality tents dotting the property but not so many GA faithful. Defending champion Matt Fitzpatrick was surprised by the relative lack of reaction after his hole-in-one on Friday morning.
"I wish it would have been louder," Fitzpatrick said. Us too. "I wish it was a few more people. But, yeah, I'm surprised there's not been as many people out as I thought this week."
To stay with our surprised theme, Rory McIlroy sure didn't expect to be two shots back after shooting 8 under for two days. He's not complaining, of course—he came home in 30 on Friday to post a 67 and finds himself in great position for yet another run at ending that nine-year major drought.
"I didn't see the scores being as low as they are. I think the overcast conditions yesterday combined with that little bit of rain in the morning, I think the course just never got firm at all. The conditions now, it's a little brighter, sunnier, a little bit of breeze. It's got the potential to get a little firmer and faster over the next couple days, which will make the scores go up a little bit. We'll see what it's like at the end of the week. It's still early in the week."
Despite the scoring, the overwhelming sentiment from players has been pro-LACC. It's a fun course to play. "One I'd never get tired of," is how Jon Rahm put it early in the week. Phil Mickelson heaped praise on it before the week started. Harris English, the lone guy at 7 under, thinks they're nailing the setup.
Then there's Brooks Koepka, never one to keep his opinions to himself.
"I'm not a huge fan of this place," said Koepka, who is even par after 36 holes, on Friday. "I'm not a huge fan of blind tee shots, and then I think there's just some spots that no matter what you hit, the ball just ends up in the same spot.
"I think it would be more fun to play on just like a regular round than it would be a U.S. Open. I mean, there's, what, two 8 (unders) yesterday? That doesn't happen."
It didn't on Friday, and it surely won't over the weekend. It took a little while, but this finally feels like a U.S. Open.
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