Morning Report: The Cut Looms as Oakmont Stiffens
By Dave Shedloski
OAKMONT, Pa. – Well, enough of the fun and games. The U.S. Open at Oakmont Country Club is about to become the U.S. Open at Oakmont.
The rolling, rough-laden golf course is drying out from this week’s heavy rain and becoming firmer, faster – and tougher. Woe then to those slated to play their second 18 holes today who need to conjure up something real and red to either get in contention or battle into the top 60 and ties that make the 36-hole cut.
Then a third round will need to be completed this afternoon, and that, too, could be an adventure in birdie submitting.
But before we get that far, a bit of cleanup is necessary from Friday’s action.
The cut, which will come this afternoon once the entire field completes 36 holes, will be over par, as expected. Many of the top players in the world are currently flirting with the cut line, including world No. 1 Jason Day, who completed 36 holes at 5 over par. Another one in danger of going home early is six-time runner-up Phil Mickelson, who stands at 7 over par through 36 holes. Lefty is trying to avoid missing the cut in consecutive majors.
Meanwhile, also keep an eye on Louis Oosthuizen, who tied Dustin Johnson, the clubhouse leader here at Oakmont, for second place last year at Chambers Bay. The 2010 British Open winner opened with a 75, but was on a roll before play was called because of darkness Friday night. He’d bagged four birdies in a row starting at the third (his 12th hole of the day) when play was suspended and completed a second-round 65 this morning to fight back to even par.
This rally is becoming part of the standard Oosthuizen playbook. At Chambers Bay he opened with 77 and then followed with rounds of 66-66-67 for a 199 total, bettering the scoring record over the final 54 holes of the championship by three strokes. His record-tying 29 over the final nine holes Sunday at Chambers Bay included five straight birdies. So he knows how to reel them off.
Of those going back out for their second 18, their strategy depends on their place on the scoreboard. Landry, the first-time U.S. Open participant, is likely to play conservatively, as will veteran Lee Westwood, who is just one behind Landry and Johnson.
“I like a challenge. This golf course is certainly a challenge,” said Westwood, who twice has finished third in the championship. “It tests you mentally. I'm pleased with the start. It's a good way to start this championship. You don't really want to be shooting a lot over par and having to chase.”
Oakmont isn’t a chasers park, but chasing is something that world No. 3 Rory McIlroy must do to get back into the picture. His opening 77 has forced his hand for today.
“With the way the golf course is, with it being so soft, I might just go out there in the second round and hit a lot of drivers and try to be as aggressive as I possibly can be,” said the four-time major winner from Northern Ireland. “I think for me the toughest thing is just trying to stay positive and not get too down on myself.”
Defending champion Jordan Spieth, after finishing off a 2-over 72 early Friday, was happy to remain in contention. His intentions looking ahead were oriented more toward the big picture.
“I didn't shoot myself out of it. Ideally, I would have been where the leader is at 4 under. But I honestly don't think that was even possible for our tee time,” the 22-year-old Texan said Friday morning. “I'm not really sure how my score stands right now. But I know that at the end of the day, the USGA is going to try to have even par win the golf tournament, and I know that I can shoot 2 under in the remaining 54 holes no matter how the course plays. I know I'm capable of it. I'm in it.”
We’ll see if he stays that way, as well as who falls out of it. One thing to bank on is that no one will say it was easy. Or fun.
Said Jason Kokrak, who played here in the 2007 U.S. Open and 2003 U.S. Amateur, “Define fun.”
Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based freelance writer who frequently contributes to USGA websites.