BROOKLINE, Mass. – For a weird while it looked like this U.S. Open might turn out to be some sort of funky qualifiers’ paradise.
Up to the rafters of the leaderboard went five unknowns who qualified in Ohio, two who qualified in Texas, one who qualified in Canada, this guy, that guy, that other guy. It felt like if you hadn’t played one of the 36-hole qualifiers you must have been some sort of hopeless slacker.
Then came the midday and afternoon of Friday at such a geezer of a country club they call it The Country Club, and up the boards around the course crashed the surnames of the stars: SCHEFFLER, then MORIKAWA and RAHM, then, wait, McILROY.
Now they have themselves a whopper of a leaderboard approaching the weekend, with Collin Morikawa up top with Joel Dahmen at 5 under par, Rory McIlroy and Jon Rahm among five players at 4 under par, and No. 1 Scottie Scheffler among five at 3 under par.
“Yeah, I mean, it’s why we play,” McIlroy said, soon adding, “You want to go up against the best to try to bring the best out of yourself.”
As the shadows lengthened Friday afternoon, the best did seem to be Morikawa, not that it came as a jolt. The reigning British Open champion and 2020 PGA titlist might not be hitting like he’s accustomed to hitting, but he’s missing in the right spots, in the eccentric parlance one often hears around this batty sport. He started on the back nine, rang up a sublime 32, stammered a lone bogey on No. 4, then treated the bleachers at the par-5 eighth hole to one of the great mis-hits they’ll see, an approach that went up the scary hill and bounded onto the front left part of the green and came to sit 6 feet from eagle.
He nudged that putt left and looked sad, but the birdie pushed him ahead, and the round (66) bested all the others. It all looked so promising that somebody brought up the fact he has opened with two rounds in the 60s in only two previous majors, and he has won both those majors.
“That’s such a terrible stat,” the business major said. “I mean, I’ve played 11 majors. It’s not a big enough stat to really make anything out of it, but hopefully.”
Ah well, at least he has his topic of the day on which to elaborate: the flummoxing fact he’s hitting a little draw rather than a little cut these days.
“No, I think what it proves is you can play this game with many shots,” the 25-year-old said. “I remember the first time I played with Tiger (Woods) and he hit every shot that called for it. Pin is on the right, you hit a little cut. Pin is on the left, you hit a little draw. This is just going to hopefully make my iron play and make my game a little but more well-rounded than just hitting a cut.”
He and Rahm finished together, Rahm with his 67 saying they could “feed off each other,” and as Rahm spoke and praised the leaderboard “a testament to the health and the state of this game” – an issue in question lately – McIlroy was wrapping up outside.
The Northern Irishman had taken his fans on another of his thrill rides, their chants of “Ror-eee” echoing as he finished. When he ended with a 69 to add to his opening 67, the 69 became “a really good example of just having a good attitude.”
Scheffler sneaked in with a midday 67, a reminder he has spent the past four months as the best of the best, with his four PGA Tour wins and his Masters triumph and his ensuing runner-up finish in Fort Worth even if he did miss the cut at the PGA Championship.
He overcame some wretchedness: a chunk on No. 5. He, however, produced something gorgeous, a 55-yard knock from under a tree in the grass on No. 14, one which bounded its way up the green and into the right side of the cup so gently that it didn’t even need the help of the flagstick to stop. He just did all of that as he does things: quietly.
“Yeah, I feel like I’m kind of an under-the-radar person,” he said. “I don’t really feel like there’s much chatter going around with me. Rory won last week, Tiger was at the PGA. I’ve been No. 1 in the world for a while now, and it doesn’t really feel like it, so I kind of like just under the radar. I can show up and do my thing and then go home and rest.”
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe now to get breaking news alerts in your email inbox
Get breaking news delivered to your inbox as it happens.