ERIN, Wis. — At most major championships, there are always a few surprises — players who no one expected to make a run at a major title. Sometimes, they even raise the trophy after 72 holes, ala Shaun Micheel at the 2003 PGA Championship.
This year’s U.S. Open, though, is taking that to another level. Through 36 holes, not a single player inside the top 18 has won a major. That’s not to say big names and quality players aren’t in the mix here in Wisconsin.
American Rickie Fowler (T-5) owns four PGA Tour wins including a dominating victory at the Players Championship in 2015. Compatriot Brooks Koepka (T-1) played on the 2016 U.S. Ryder Cup team that defeated Team Europe at Hazeltine last fall. And Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama (T-8) is ranked fourth in the world.
Yet for comparison’s sake, at the Masters in April, four of the final top 10 players on the leaderboard had previously won a major championship, and that didn’t include the newest member of the Green Jacket club, Sergio Garcia.
That’s not to say a worthy champion won’t be crowned on Sunday — but there’s plenty of work left to do for golf’s upper echelon of players, many of whom missed the cut on Friday.
Triple bogeys have a way of sinking a round, but somehow that wasn’t the situation for Paul Casey on Friday at the U.S. Open.
The Englishman struggled to get out of the knee-high fescue rough at Erin Hills and posted a snowman on the par-5 14th hole, his fifth of the day.
“Not every day you enjoy a round of golf with an 8 on the card, but I’m a pretty happy man,” Casey said. “Yeah, it was a bit of a roller coaster … I guess it’s (rare) you get through a U.S. Open or any major without some kind of hiccup.
“It was a good display, all my own fault, but a good display of what can happen if you get out of position on this golf course, which is what I did on 14. Even just trying to take my medicine is very, very difficult. It’s a good 8 in the end.”
No matter. He shot 38 on his first nine, but rallied for 33 on his second nine.
Matsuyama birdied six of his first eight holes Friday, shot 30 on his opening and flirted, albeit briefly, with shooting golf’s magical 63 in a major, eventually settling for a 65 in Round 2 of the U.S. Open.
No one has ever broken that 63 barrier in any of golf’s four major championships.
The 25-year-old from Japan opened his U.S. Open with a 74 on Thursday, then rallied on Friday to not only make the cut, but to play himself into a tie for eighth heading into the week.
Matsuyama is playing in his fifth U.S. Open. His best finish came in his first start at the event back in 2013 when he tied for 10th at Merion. Can he become the seventh-straight first-time major winner dating back to Jason Day’s win at the 2015 PGA Championship?
We’ll find out over the next 36 holes.
For the second straight day, tragedy struck the 117th U.S. Open on Friday when a 94-year-old man collapsed near the sixth hole at Erin Hills and later died. Authorities believe it was from natural causes.
On Thursday, a blimp crashed in flames and the pilot had to be pulled to safety before the airship’s propane tanks exploded.