The U.S. Open used a full-length North course at Los Angeles Country Club to combat record low scores. Wyndham Clark and Rory McIlroy did well Friday.
Rickie Fowler and Xander Schauffele faced the biggest defense on another susceptible course—sunshine and a growing breeze in the afternoon.
Clark, who won his first PGA Tour win last month against a top field, started well with a brave flop shot and a massive birdie putt and finished with a 3-under 67. McIlroy, without a major in nine years, closed with four birdies on his final five holes for a 67.
Two-time major winner Dustin Johnson made a quadruple-bogey 8 on his second hole with six terrible shots, one penalty, and a tap-in. The golfer with the shortest memory rallied and shot 70, keeping him in contention for the weekend.
“I think there was maybe five or six tees that were put back,” Clark added. “It played a while.”
His two huge moments occurred on the 605-yard par-5 14th with a front right pin behind a tremendous bunker complex. Clark was far to the left in another bunker’s slimy, nasty collar. He shot over a corner of the stand to the little green and scored a 12-foot birdie.
The other was a 40-foot putt on the 16th that he misjudged in practice but made with a scorecard.
Clark’s 9-under 131 was one stroke shy of Martin Kaymer’s U.S. Open record at Pinehurst No. 2 in soft, calm conditions.
Clark saw the shadows after finishing. The sun eventually broke through the marine layer typical of coastal California in June, making the course quicker and less forgiving.
After shooting 62s in the lowest U.S. Open opening round, Fowler and Schauffele faced that in the afternoon.
McIlroy credited his 65 to cloud cover, dampness, and soft greens.
“It’s brighter, sunnier, and breezey now. McIlroy predicted the course might firm up and speed up over the next two days, raising scores. We’ll see by week’s end.
“Yes, the course has played maybe a little easier than everyone thought it would, but wouldn’t be surprised on Saturday, Sunday to see it bite back,” McIlroy said. It’ll be hard. It should be a mental and physical slog out there.”
On the back nine, McIlroy hit inaccurate tee shots, notably on the second-longest U.S. Open hole, the 297-yard 11th.
He posted a 30 on the front nine for the second straight day by taking advantage of the scoring holes and finishing with a tee shot on the par-3 ninth to 3 feet.
Harris English finished his 66 with a 30-on-the-front nine for 7-under 133.
“They can make them firm and fast and put those pins in some tough spots. “It’ll be fun,” English remarked. The rough remains punitive. Everyone will receive the U.S. Open they want.”
Johnson saw much of it without sun or wind. He pulled his second-hole tee shot into a bunker, barely moved 95 yards into heavy rough, hit the next one into the barranca, took a penalty drop, went over the green, and walked off with the strangest 8s.
His finest round shot?
“Probably the tee shot on 3—hitting a good shot and just getting settled down after an 8,” he added. “Didn’t like walking off that green.”
He was tied with Min Woo Lee at 6-under 134.
PGA champion Brooks Koepka’s 69 got him to the weekend in the middle of the pack on a course he wouldn’t regard as a favorite due to the blind tee shots.
“I don’t like this place,” he remarked.