He showed why he is ranked the best in the world as Dustin Johnson surged into a four-shot lead heading into the weekend of the 118th US Open at Shinnecock Hills.
The 33-year-old was the only player left under par after another challenging day which claimed the scalps of Tiger Woods, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy on Long Island.
The 2016 champion shot a round of 67 through a burst of cold morning rain to set the bar at four under par ahead of fellow American Scott Piercy, the runner-up two years ago, and compatriot Charley Hoffman.
Johnson would have been feeling the heat when the wind dropped on a warm afternoon and he was hunted down by a pair of Englishmen in New York. But Ian Poulter squandered all the effort of clawing to within one shot by amassing a triple-bogey on his penultimate hole, while Justin Rose ended with two bogeys to finish alongside his countryman on one over.
Another Englishman Tommy Fleetwood shot the low round of the week — a 66 — to also finish on one over with former Open champion Henrik Stenson and defending US Open champion Brooks Koepka.
‘Patience a virtue’
Phil Mickelson, still searching for a first US Open win to complete the set of all four majors after six runner-up spots, carded a one-under 69 to inch to six over, two shots inside the cut. Mickelson has been runner-up in four US Opens in the New York area, including at Shinnecock Hills in 2004, and is a firm favorite of the local crowds who would love nothing more than a trademark charge on his 48th birthday Saturday.
But the tournament for now is in the hands of Johnson, who has married an impressive short game with his prodigious length to open up a sizeable gap after sharing a four-way tie for the lead after round one.
Johnson was reminiscent of playing partner Woods in his prime as he strode the fairways in complete control, seemingly impervious to the trials befalling others. He carded just one bogey and four birdies, including a monster 45-foot across the green of the short seventh, and said one of his keys was not getting angry.
“It’s a tough golf course, tough conditions, so it’s very important to stay patient all day,” he said.
“Why am I going to get upset about a bad shot I hit? I do it every day when I play. So you just got to go find it and hit it again.”
‘Can’t fake it’
Woods, playing his first US Open since 2015 after multiple back surgeries, resumed at eight over, looking to make some amends for Thursday’s disappointing opening round. A birdie at his first hole, the 10th, suggested he was in the mood to claw his way back up the leaderboard on the 10th anniversary of his 14th and last major title.
He also birdied the 16th but two bogeys canceled out his good work to reach the turn level par for the day, and he hit the buffers early in the back nine.
He made a double bogey on the first hole — scene of Thursday’s opening triple — and also bogeyed the short second to plummet to 11 over.
Another shot went on the sixth, but like the Woods of old he kept fighting to the end and closed with back-to-back birdies to end 10 over.
“I’m not very happy the way I played and the way I putted,” Woods told reporters.
“You don’t win major championships by kind of slapping all around the place and missing putts. You have to be on.
“You just can’t fake it at a major championship.”
McIlroy, who won the last of his four majors in 2014, had effectively played himself out of the tournament with that career-worst major round of 80 Thursday, and despite improving by 10 shots he was still comfortably outside the cut at 10 over.
“I felt like my game was good coming in here. I just felt like I was blown away by the wind Thursday,” he told Sky Sports.
His playing partner Spieth began the day eight over and had slipped to 11 over after 11 holes before four straight pars set up a late scramble to make the cut. But back-to-back bogeys to finish punched an early ticket home for the three-time major champion who will defend his British Open title at Carnoustie next month.
Poulter was fuming with himself after following his triple-bogey with a bogey at the last as he chases a first major title following second in the British Open in 2008.
“Finishing like that is really disappointing,” he told Sky Sports.
“It’s a sour taste to what was a great day. Up to that point I felt very in control. It’s frustrating to finish like that but I’m not going to think about it.
“I’m up there hunting in a major so I’m doing the right thing.”