This U.S. Open could come down to Greg Norman vs. himself. Or Norman vs. Shinnecock Hills.
Another round like Friday’s 67 and the greatest golfer never to win a major championship on U.S. soil could be so far ahead that all he will have to contend with in Sunday’s final round is his history of losing the big ones.
Norman was simply brilliant in a five-birdie, two-bogey round that put him at 5-under-par 135 after 36 holes, two strokes ahead of Jumbo Ozaki and three ahead of Phil Mickelson and Bob Tway.
It was a round that would have been a 64 - or better - on most any other course.
“It all depends on Greg right now,” said Nick Price, who followed his first-round 66 with a 73. “He’s playing so well. He’s in control of his emotions and his game. If he plays well tomorrow, there probably will be only two or three guys with a chance to win on Sunday.”
Norman is notoriously tough when he has a cushion he can build on and has been known to run away and hide from the field.
He has also been known to fritter away slim leads in major championships.
Twelve times since 1981 Norman has been fifth or better after two rounds of a major. And this is the fifth time he has been leading after 36 holes in a major.
Yet his only victories were in the 1986 and ‘93 British Opens.
The last time he led the U.S. Open after 36 holes was at Shinnecock in 1986. He finished tied for 12th, closing with a 75 on Sunday.
This time could be different.
A clearly determined Norman worked and willed his way around an already difficult Shinnecock course that was getting tougher by the hour as steady sea breezes dried the links.
“Shinnecock is starting to show its teeth,” Norman said. “By No. 7, the wind started to pick up and it’s getting tough. It’s going to be a close tournament.”
But only Ozaki was as near as two strokes, following his opening round 69 with a 68 for 137. Mickelson shot 70 and was at 138, along with Tway, who had a 69.
Bill Glasson, who eagled the par-5 fifth hole when he holed a wedge from 40 yards, bogeyed the last two holes and still shot 70. He was at 139 along with Price, as only six players in the 156-man field were under par at the halfway point.
Davis Love and Nick Faldo both got back into contention with 68s and were at even par along with Curt Byrum, who shot his second consecutive 70, and Mark Roe.
Like Norman, none of those within five strokes of the lead has ever won a U.S. Open.
Among those missing the cut for the weekend rounds were defending champion Ernie Els, Seve Ballesteros, Hale Irwin, Paul Azinger, Chip Beck, Mark Calcavecchia, Fred Couples and Jack Nicklaus, who was playing in his record 39th consecutive U.S. Open.
Also not playing this weekend will be Tiger Woods, the 19-year-old U.S. Amateur champion. He was forced to withdraw after he injured his left wrist hitting from the thick rough.
Nearly overmatched by its devilish design, player after player trudged off the 18th green at Shinnecock on Friday aware he was locked in a typical U.S. Open survival test.
The best of the survivors was Norman. No one bettered his 67 in the second round.
“I love the golf course,” Norman said. “It’s just a classic. One of the best in the world.”
Norman completed his round with a bellied-sand wedge putt from the first cut of rough on No. 18. The ball, intentionally struck at midsection with the blade of the wedge, curled 20-feet across the slope and into the cup to give Norman a 34-33.
xxxx Open leaderboard Leaders after the second round. Greg Norman 68-67-135 Jumbo Ozaki 69-68-137 Phil Mickelson 68-70-138 Bob Tway 69-69-138 Bill Glasson 69-70-139 Nick Price 66-73-139
Local journalism is essential.
The journalists of The Spokesman-Review are a part of the community. They live here. They work here. They care. You can help keep local journalism strong right now with your contribution. Thank you.
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.