Dustin Johnson took a massive step towards a second US Open victory in three years as Ian Poulter’s challenge imploded on an eventful second day at Shinnecock Hills.
Johnson, who is looking to become only the second player after Tiger Woods to win the title as world number one, carded a second round of 67 to set a daunting clubhouse target of four under par.
That did not look like being challenged until the wind surprisingly died in late afternoon and Poulter was among those to take advantage, three birdies in four holes from the fourth taking him to within a shot of the lead.
However, the 42-year-old then dropped four shots in his last two holes to finish five shots off the pace, leaving Charley Hoffman and Scott Piercy as Johnson’s nearest challengers on level par.
SHOT OF THE DAY
ROUND OF THE DAY
Tommy Fleetwood and Brooks Koepka both shot 66, but defending champion Koepka edges it by virtue of recovering from two early bogeys to fire six birdies in the space of 10 holes.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
“I felt stupid knifing the first shot [out of the bunker], I felt more stupid semi-chunking the next one and I didn’t do that well with the next one either.” – Ian Poulter with an honest assessment of his triple-bogey seven on the eighth.
STATISTIC OF THE DAY
“Good morning from Shinnecock Hills. 21 of the last 22 U.S. Open champions were at or within 2 shots of the lead after 36 holes.” – The Golf Channel’s Justin Ray with a stat to please the Dustin Johnson fans.
The third took over from the 14th as the toughest hole, with Russell Henley’s challenge faltering as he tangled with the fescue on his way to a seven. A total of 71 bogeys, 15 double bogeys and Henley’s triple bogey helped produce a scoring average of 4.641.
For the second day in succession, the fifth hole played as the easiest with an average of 4.878, offering up 46 birdies, 22 bogeys and just one double bogey or worse.
ON THE UP
Brooks Koepka’s chances of becoming the first player to successfully defend the US Open title since 1989 after a second round of 66 lifted him into a tie for fourth place.
ON THE SLIDE
The prospects of Tiger Woods winning another major after rounds of 78 and 72 proved the former world number one remains far from his prime following spinal fusion surgery last year.
The Players Championship may never achieve its ambition of becoming the fifth major, but Rickie Fowler feels his 2015 victory at Sawgrass proves he will win one of the game’s four biggest titles.
Fowler has recorded multiple top-fives in all four majors, the most recent being a runners-up finish behind Ryder Cup team-mate Patrick Reed in the Masters in April.
And after extensive preparation ahead of the 118th US Open at Shinnecock Hills, the 29-year-old was in bullish mood about his prospects of avoiding the dreaded tag of “best player never to win a major”.
“There’s some scores that I’ve shot that have been good enough to win majors, but we haven’t been able to get it done that specific week,” Fowler said.
“At the same time, I like to look at it as that I’m good enough and I basically won a major. I won the Players against, arguably, the best field we play all year on a golf course that is a very good test as well.
“We all know I’m good enough to win. I know I’m good enough to win. Being prepared and making it happen that specific week, there’s been a few guys that have been very good at that… Jack (Nicklaus), Tiger (Woods).
“Phil (Mickelson) didn’t get his first for a while so there’s still hope. I’m not too worried about it. I’m excited about some of these courses that we have coming up, especially this week. But in the coming years, we have some great major venues.
“Augusta is one of my favourites and I have had success there. It would be nice to throw on a (green) jacket at some point, but we’ll keep doing what we’re doing. I’m definitely not trying to put any extra pressure on.
“We’ll get it done, and once we get our first, it’s definitely not going to be the last.”
Fowler was among the early starters in Thursday’s first round, the world number seven teeing off at 0813 local time (1313 BST) alongside Hideki Matsuyama and Marc Leishman.
Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth and Mickelson were in the group in front, but Tiger Woods, Justin Thomas and world number one Dustin Johnson had to wait until 1347 local time (1847 BST) to get their campaigns under way.
Rory McIlroy is anxious to get his campaign for a second US Open title under way after a lengthy spell of preparation ahead of the Shinnecock Hills event.
McIlroy rented a house in the area for two weeks and made the trip east immediately after finishing in a tie for eighth in the Memorial Tournament in Ohio.
“I first played here in 2014 and it has definitely been a US Open I have been looking forward to,” the 2011 champion said. “I love the golf course, especially with how the conditions have been. The wind and dryness remind me a bit of courses back home.
“I’ve spent quite a bit of time here and think I played 18 out of 19 days before taking a day off on Saturday.
“I came straight after Memorial and played a few courses in the area. I’ve had a bit of fun and a good few looks at this course and I’m looking forward to getting started tomorrow.
“I’m happy that I have an early tee time because it feels like I have been here a while and I’m anxious to get started.”