Dustin Johnson Pulls Away in Round 2 of the U.S. Open

Dustin Johnson, the leader after 36 holes, and Tiger Woods on the seventh hole. Woods was one of 14 major winners who missed the cut on Friday.

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. — Justin Thomas, who played with Dustin Johnson and Tiger Woods, had an insightful, firsthand perspective on what was going well and what was going wrong in the second round of the United States Open on Friday.

Of Johnson, who leads the championship by four strokes, Thomas said, “He’s just playing D.J. golf.”

“Dustin drives the ball really well,” Thomas said when asked to elaborate. “His distance control and his iron play are great. He had some great up-and-downs out of bunkers, and he’s putting well. So he pretty much has it all covered.”

Of Woods, who missed the cut with a 36-hole score of 10 over par, Thomas said, “He definitely didn’t have it.”

Thomas’s remarks captured the paradoxes of the second round at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club, where a handful of golfers flourished in challenging conditions while dozens of others were once again tormented by the heartless layout.

What that portends for the weekend in the 118th U.S. Open may be harder to predict. The tournament has defied convention despite being contested at an old-world golf club. As the sun set on the halfway point of the championship, there were seven former major champions in the top 20 of the leader board, but 14 major champions were going home.

With a sparkling round of 67, Johnson was the only golfer under par after the first two days of the event. Playing in the morning, when he faced chilly, windblown rain, Johnson followed up his first-round 69 with four birdies and just one bogey to reach four under par for the tournament. Charley Hoffman and Scott Piercy were tied for second place at even par.

Five golfers were at one over: Henrik Stenson, Justin Rose, Ian Poulter, Tommy Fleetwood and Brooks Koepka, the defending champion.

Fleetwood and Koepka each shot 66 to tie for the low second-round score.

For the vast majority of the field, however, there was one constant through the morning rain, the radiant midday sun and the intermittent clouds of the evening. The dense rough, deceptive topographical challenges and unforgiving greens of Shinnecock Hills continued to flummox the world’s best golfers.

The list of major champions missing the cut was a who’s who of elite golf: Woods, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Rory McIlroy, Bubba Watson, Sergio Garcia, Adam Scott, Martin Kaymer, Ernie Els, Keegan Bradley, Charl Schwartzel, Lucas Glover, Graeme McDowell and Danny Willett.

Unlike in his opening round on Thursday, when he shot an eight-over 78, Woods rebounded to play capably in the second. But a two-over 72, which included birdies on his two closing holes, was not enough of a rally to earn a spot moving forward. He has missed the cut only one other time in the 10 tournaments he has played this year, after returning to the game from his fourth back surgery.

During both rounds here, Woods’s weakness was one that has haunted him in recent weeks — and frequently in his pursuit of his first major championship since he won the 2008 U.S. Open. He has been unable to summon the putting magic that was a hallmark of his prime.

“I haven’t made those key putts to keep the momentum of a round going,” Woods said Friday. “Or, if I have any positive momentum, I miss a putt and derail it. And those are maybe the most critical putts.”

In a performance similar to Thursday’s, Johnson was consistent and, at times, brilliant. Although he bogeyed the first hole, he did not make another costly mistake, and along the way he birdied two of the most difficult holes on the course.

The seventh and the 11th holes — treacherous, uphill par 3s — have ruined many a round at Shinnecock Hills. But Johnson’s tee shot on No. 7 found the sloping green, and then he rolled in a 45-foot, downhill, breaking putt. At the short but devilish 11th hole, Johnson fired precisely at the flag and then made a birdie putt of nearly nine feet.

Johnson’s proficiency was all the more remarkable considering the miserable weather that dogged the first 90 minutes of his round.

As Phil Mickelson, who played in the afternoon, said: “Our wave of tee times was significantly easier. And it shows how impressive Dustin Johnson is playing, because he played in much more difficult conditions and he’s beating everybody by a lot.”

Johnson, the 2016 U.S. Open champion, tends to seem placid regardless of how he plays, and he was unruffled by his position atop the leader board.

“I’ve been out here on tour for a while,” he said. “I don’t really get too worried or too excited.”

How did he withstand the adverse weather and the rigors of a course that discarded more than a dozen major champions after 36 holes?

“I hung in there,” Johnson replied with a shrug.

Some of his competitors were a little more overwhelmed.

“There’re a lot of ways the golf course can get you, and you don’t have to be off by much to be penalized severely,” said Russell Henley, who began Friday tied for the lead but slumped into a tie for ninth place largely because he needed three swings to extricate his ball from the billowy fescue grass on the third hole.

“It is,” said Henley, who made a triple bogey on the hole, “just really tough out there.”

Read highlights and analysis from Round 2, as it happened, below:

Jordan Spieth is used to making pressure putts. He is not used to making pressure putts to make the cut.

But that’s the position he found himself in on the 18th.

He had been on a great run just to get to this point. After falling to +11, Spieth birdied four in a row before bogeying the 17th to sit at eight-over par — right at the projected cut line.

After a nice drive on the 18th, his approach went just a tad too long and nestled in some thick grass just on the edge of a backside bunker. He couldn’t get a clean shot and his bumbled chip left him with a tricky downhill putt to save par, and save his tournament.

He missed the putt just to the right, tossed his club in his hand and stood to side of the green, stewing. So from that “super group,” only Mickelson (+6) has made the cut.

After three birdies in four holes, Ian Poulter had come within one shot of Dustin Johnson for a share of the lead at four-under par.

And then he arrived at the No. 8, his 17th hole for the day.

Things went downhill after his second shot landed in a greenside bunker. His sand shot was a complete mishit, actually flying the green in the air and landing in some fescue. He then chunked his fourth shot out of that thick rough.

Fearing another wedge shot that blows across the green, he came up short with his fifth. His sixth (a putt) missed the hole left. Finally he finished with a triple-bogey seven to drop back to even par.

Welcome to the tournament, Jordan Spieth.

The 2015 U.S. Open champion is grinding on the back nine to get below the cut line. Back-to-back-to-back birdies on the 13th, 14th and 15th have him put him right in position to narrowly make the cut, projected now at +8.

Amazingly, if you take away holes No. 10 and 11, he would be only one-over par. He is +7 on those two holes alone.

For a while, Dustin Johnson (-4) was the only player in the red for the tournament.

But two Englishmen just joined him under par, as Ian Poulter (-1) and Justin Rose (-1) collected birdies on the fourth and fifth holes, respectively.

Rose is two-under on the day with four holes to play. The 2013 U.S. Open winner was a popular pick coming into the week after winning the Fort Worth Invitational late last month and finishing sixth at the Memorial.

Poulter began the day at -1 and is playing even par for the day with one bogey (No. 10) and one birdie.

The projected cut is currently at +8. If it holds (and current scores hold as well), we would have a weekend at the U.S. Open without Tiger Woods (+10), Jordan Spieth (+11) or Rory McIlroy (+13).

Phil Mickelson (+7) is hanging on by a thread. Scores might continue to go lower, although nobody is really challenging Dustin Johnson (-4) at the moment.

After his round, Woods seemed to sense that his 72 on Friday was not going to be good enough to keep him around for the weekend.

“I wanted to shoot something around 68, 67,” Woods said. “I thought that would have been a great score. I looked at it as kind of progressively putting myself back into position. I couldn’t chase down the leaders right away. It’s going to take me probably 2 1/2 to 3 rounds to do it.

“Unfortunately, I went the other way.”

The struggles have continued for Rory McIlroy.

After a double bogey on the ninth, McIlroy is now at 14-over par heading to the back nine where he shot 42 yesterday. Another 80 is definitely a possibility, which sounds unthinkable for an accomplished golfer like Rory.

Today he is 6 for 6 in fairways hit off the tee. But he’s averaging 2.22 putts per hole. That is worse than anyone else in the field.

Big momentum booster for Rickie Fowler, who birdied the seventh with a putt from just off the fringe and is now in a tie for ninth at two-strokes over par and one-under for the day. After a bogey on the sixth, that was a nice response for Fowler, who played well yesterday other than a double bogey on the 14th.

The afternoon’s heralded trio is off to a rocky start. Through three holes, each player — McIlroy (+11), Spieth (+9) and Mickelson (+9) — has carded at least one bogey. Mickelson has two.

It’s going to be a long day.

The “super group” of major championship winners Phil Mickelson, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy didn’t live up to expectations on Thursday, but its members should have a better chance to redeem themselves Friday.

They benefit from an afternoon tee time; conditions have cleared up considerably from the day before and this morning. The rain has stopped and the wind has died down. While the greens might not have soaked up all that much moisture (it didn’t rain that hard), they may still be slower than yesterday.

That’s good news for this trio that will be fighting to make the cut for the weekend. McIlroy (+10) has work to do and will need to improve on his poor driving accuracy from Thursday (7 of 14 fairways hit).

Spieth (+8) and Mickelson (+7) are right around the cut line, but that’s not where they want to be. Tommy Fleetwood shot 66 and Dustin Johnson posted a 67, so there are low scores out there today. We’ll see if anyone from the “super group” can snatch one.

Who is this birdie machine, and what have you done with Tiger Woods?

I kid, I kid. But it’s a great end to a pretty miserable tournament for Woods, who birdied eight and nine with sizable putts on each to get back to 10-over par. We’ll have to see if it’s enough for Tiger to make the cut (he’s currently tied for 101st). If not for the calamitous first hole, Woods wouldn’t be sweating it. It was nice to see his putter finally start to wake up at the end there.

All in all, it was a disappointing showing for Tiger in his first appearance back in the U.S. Open since 2015. Marking the 10-year anniversary of his last major title, Woods compounded mistakes on the first hole (twice), missed the fairways a bit too often and simply could not deliver putts when he needed them. But he hung tough and even flashed some smiles toward the end of today’s round.

Desperate for a birdie (and a miracle) to make the cut, Woods had a nice little wedge shot from 120 yards out to give himself a good look for a three. And, hey, would you look at that! He finally made a putt from 10+ feet. It looks to be too little, too late, but at least it’s a flash of what we used to see regularly from Mr. Woods.

Quite a moment at the par-3 seventh hole. But it wasn’t delivered by Tiger Woods.

It was Dustin Johnson, who sneaked in a 45-footer for birdie to now go to four-under par for the tournament, three-under for the day. He has a three-stroke lead. The putt drew a large cheer from the crowd and even a smile from Johnson, who looks in full command of his game.

Woods found the center of the green and had about 30 feet for the birdie, but it missed. He cleaned up the par.

On the sixth, Woods found the thick rough again. He had hit 8 of 11 fairways in the second round, but this was a miss to the right. He had to hack it out to get into the fairway and then came up short with his wedge. Misses the putt from 30 feet to drop another stroke. +12 now — 15 strokes behind Dustin Johnson, and likely four or five strokes off the cut line.

The rain has stopped, the sun has come out again and the wind has died down considerably.

After a nice drive on the par-5 fifth, Woods went with a three-wood from 285 and managed to roll it up just short of the green. But his pitch shot from there wasn’t great; left him with an eight-foot putt for birdie and he missed it left.

Absolutely brutal.

A par on the easiest hole on the course is nothing less than a failure for Woods (+11) and his hopes of staying around for the weekend.

Another makable birdie opportunity for Woods from less than 20 feet and he comes up short with the putter. Again. Nothing has fallen for Tiger this tournament, and that’s why he’s looking at a short stay in the Hamptons this week.

By comparison, Dustin Johnson is delivering on those looks. He just made a 15-foot birdie putt to pull ahead by two strokes at three-under par.

On the third hole, Tiger Woods makes his first par on his second nine. Despite missing short again with his iron from 200 yards out, he managed a two-putt to avoid further damage. The wind has died down, although a slight rain continues to fall, making the greens much slower than yesterday.

Not that players are really able to take advantage; only six (including Dustin Johnson) are under par for the day.

The par-3 second hole is playing as the third-most difficult hole on the course. And it was easy to see why on Friday: Both Justin Thomas and Tiger Woods failed to save par.

Woods’s tee shot went short and fell into the bunker. He did a decent job with a long sand shot but missed the 11-foot putt to make par. Woods has bogeyed the second hole twice now in two days, and he’s heading to No. 3, the hardest hole on the course today.

Rain, cold, wind. Just like you’d expect for a British Open.

Wait, this is the U.S. Open?! Oh, well, nevermind.

Tiger Woods (+8) is starting his back nine on Hole No. 1. After a perfectly placed tee shot, Woods had perhaps his worst iron shot of the tournament thus far — and that’s saying something. He missed way right from 164 yards.

He had been even for the round despite a bogey on the 18th. But now he’s going to be in a real fight to make the cut.

His errant second shot plugged deep into a wet thicket of rough. He hacked out of it, but the ball rolled back down the backside of the green. His fourth shot chip shot flew past the hole. His 14-foot comebacker for bogey missed as well.

At least his double was an improvement from Thursday. He’s now five-over par in two days ... on the first hole alone.

• Tiger Woods is off to a much better start today than yesterday, when he triple-bogeyed the first hole. Through nine holes, Woods has two birdies.

• Dustin Johnson has sole possession of first place at -3 after nine holes. He came into the day with a share of first, tied at -1 with three other players.

• A surprisingly rainy day has added a new challenge to what has already proven to be a challenging course for the field of 156. Only four players finished the first round under par.

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