The first two days of this U.S. Open have been as much about the provocative design of Chambers Bay as about the players chasing the year’s second major championship.
Now it’s the players’ turn.
Midway through the U.S. Open, Patrick Reed and Masters champion Jordan Spieth share the lead, one stroke ahead of Dustin Johnson and Branden Grace. Both Reed and Spieth are at 5-under par 135 through 36 holes.
After sharing the lead with Johnson for a good portion of the warm, sunny afternoon, Reed took the lead outright with a short birdie at the par-3 16th hole after a brilliant approach shot from a fairway bunker.
A three-putt bogey at the 18th hole dropped Reed into a tie with Spieth.
Johnson, meanwhile, dropped shots on three of the final four holes after briefly building a two-stroke lead.
Reed, Johnson and Spieth are at the heart of American golf as the game transitions from the Tiger Woods-Phil Mickelson era.
Johnson, a South Carolina native, returned earlier this year from a self-imposed six-month sabbatical from the game to deal with personal issues and he’s already won a World Golf Championship event.
With his immense power, Johnson is capable of overwhelming a course but he has struggled to close out major championships when he’s had the chance.
Reed is a ferocious competitor who thrives on big stages but he’s never finished in the top 10 of a major, having played just five prior to this U.S. Open.
Spieth, meanwhile, is attempting to become just the sixth player to win the Masters and U.S. Open in the same year, joining Craig Wood, Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods. Playing in the brilliant summer sunshine with temperatures in the low 70s, Spieth tacked on a second-round 67 to his opening 68 to put himself among the leaders.
A double bogey at the par-4 18th hole (his ninth) stalled Spieth’s momentum but only temporarily. Unlike the Masters where he led wire to wire, Spieth is dealing with a course that is likely to get more difficult over the weekend as it continues to dry out.
“I’m in a very different position. I’m not going to have whatever it was, a four or five-shot lead,” Spieth said.
“Given it’s a U.S. Open, I imagine they’re going to try to bring us back to par, at least that’s what it seems.
“It’s going to be somewhat hard to bring us back to par if we continue to have this perfect weather but I know it’s going to be tougher and tougher now that Saturday and Sunday hit. So I’ll draw some on Augusta but, at the same time, my patience level has to be even that much higher.”
As Spieth, Jason Day and Justin Rose were playing their final hole, the steeply downhill par-3 ninth, Day fell to the ground as he walked toward the green. Day lay there for several minutes while medical personnel tended to him on a hillside.
Eventually, Day was helped up and finished his round with a bogey but he needed help leaving the course. Day has been dealing with the effects of vertigo for several years and the condition led to his difficulty on the finishing hole. Day was just two strokes off the lead when he needed medical attention.
Rose said Day had given no indication he was feeling poorly until after he went down.
“I said, ‘Just the stuff you’ve been struggling with recently? And he said, ‘Yeah, same stuff,’” Rose said.
After shooting 80 on Thursday, his highest score in a U.S. Open, Tiger Woods added a 76 on Friday to miss the cut and finish tied for 154th in a 156-player field.
“On a golf course like this you get exposed and you have to be precise and dialed in. Obviously, I didn’t have that,” Woods said after missing his second cut in six starts this year.