SAN FRANCISCO – There were no fist pumps for Tiger Woods, just a deep breath and a slow exhale. Jim Furyk walked most of the 7,170 yards at Olympic Club with his head down. David Toms couldn’t think of a single shot he hit without his full attention Friday.
They were not just the survivors of the U.S. Open. They were the leaders.
And it’s no coincidence that all of them have been tested in the majors, none more often than Woods, who survived a patch of bogeys early in his round for an even-par 70 that took him another round closer to a 15th major title.
“I know that it takes a bit out of us, but so be it,” Woods said. “Much rather be there than missing cuts or just making the cut. So it’s a wonderful place to be with a chance to win your nation’s open.”
Just when this U.S. Open was starting to look like child’s play, a trio of major champions took it back.
Furyk rolled in a 40-foot birdie putt from off the third green in the morning for a 69. Woods and Toms, who showed a steady hand with the putter for a 70, joined him in the afternoon when the conditions were fiery and emotions were frayed.
They were the only players to beat par for 36 holes at 1-under 139.
And they restored some sanity to a major that for a brief moment had been taken over by a 17-year-old who only two weeks ago didn’t even win his state high school championship. Beau Hossler went 11 holes without making a bogey, and took the outright lead on one of the toughest holes at Olympic. He got lost in the thick rough and trees on the brutal front nine, dropping five shots in eight holes for a 73 that left him four shots behind.
That wasn’t the only surprise.
Defending champion Rory McIlroy missed the cut for the fourth time in his last five tournaments. He set a U.S. Open record last year at Congressional with a 131 through 36 holes. He was 19 shots worse at Olympic, with a 73 giving him a two-day score of 150.
“It wasn’t the way I wanted to play,” he said.
Also leaving San Francisco far earlier than anyone expected were Luke Donald, the world’s No. 1 player, Masters champion Bubba Watson and Dustin Johnson, coming off a win last week at the St. Jude Classic.
It doesn’t take much at this U.S. Open to swallow up even the best players.
When the last group trudged up the hill toward the stately clubhouse at Olympic, the experience at the top of the leaderboard was impossible to ignore.
“Whoever wins this golf tournament is going to be a great champion, somebody that’s probably won events before, that can handle the emotions and can handle the adversity in a U.S. Open, and somebody with experience,” Toms said. “At least that’s what I think. You never know. Strange things can happen, but I would think that you would see a lot of that on the leaderboard come late Sunday.”
It starts with Woods, who is coming off his second win of the year at the Memorial. Hitting shots both directions, mainly with irons off the tees, he overcame three straight bogeys on his front nine, two of those shots not far off from being easy birdie chances.
His only regret was not taking advantage of having a wedge in his hand on the last three holes, all birdie chances that became pars.
“This tournament, you’re just plodding along,” Woods said. “This is a different tournament. You have to stay patient, stay present, and you’re just playing for a lot of pars.”