Daily Digest: Thomas' Magical Short Game
By David Shefter, USGA
Justin Thomas did not shoot your run-of-the-mill round of 69 at Oakmont Country Club Friday afternoon.
Thomas’ second round of the 116th U.S. Open was a roller coaster of the good and the bad: seven pars, seven birdies, two bogeys and two double bogeys. Thomas finished 36 holes at 2-over 142 and in a tie for 29th when the second round was suspended because of darkness at 8:42 p.m. EDT.
A veteran of USGA championships at age 23 – 2011 U.S. Junior Amateur runner-up, 2012 U.S. Amateur semifinalist and member of the 2013 USA Walker Cup Team – Thomas hit only four fairways but relied on a sterling short game.
He had only 24 putts, thanks in part to holing three greenside shots for birdies: a 66-foot chip on No. 7, a 96-foot sand shot on No. 8 and a 15-foot chip on No. 17.
“You recognize that you’re getting 36 holes in a U.S. Open out of the way a little quicker, which could play to your advantage if you just keep your head down and recognize par’s a good score and try to get in in par in those 36.” – Jordan Spieth, when asked his mindset on playing 36 holes on Saturday
“I’m not going to lie, it was much easier than it was in the practice rounds because of the rain. It’s definitely the toughest course I’ve ever played. There’s no doubt about it. Good golf course, though.” – Sergio Garcia, who is 2 under through 36 holes
“What happened last year?” – Dustin Johnson, when asked whether his three-putt on the 72nd hole at Chambers Bay weighed on his mind
Bogey-Free Round for Johnson
Dustin Johnson doesn’t seem affected by the hangover of last year’s disappointing finish at Chambers Bay. Johnson, who three-putted the 72nd hole from 12 feet to lose by one stroke to Jordan Spieth, posted a bogey-free, 3-under-par 67 in the weather-delayed first round on Friday. The 31-year-old from Myrtle Beach, S.C., was the only player in the field without a bogey on his card, and it was the first bogey-free effort in a U.S. Open at Oakmont since 1994 when Loren Roberts achieved the feat in the third round. Roberts would later lose a three-way Monday playoff (with Colin Montgomerie) to Ernie Els.
Johnson, with three top 10s in eight U.S. Open starts, is hoping to finally break through and win a major championship. He has 11 top 10s in majors.
He kept his clean round going on Friday by holing a 10-foot par putt on the par-3 16th hole.
“I like the golf course,” said Johnson. “It’s a good, challenging golf course that is fun to play.”
As for playing 36 holes in one day, he added: “You know it’s going to be a long day. You still do everything exactly how you would if you were just playing 18.”
Johnson’s 67 was one behind PGA Tour rookie Andrew Landry. Lee Westwood, who concluded his opening round earlier on Friday, also shot 67.
Tough Start for Mickelson
Phil Mickelson has some considerable catching up to do if he is going to complete the career grand slam this week. Mickelson, who didn’t play at all on Thursday (his 46th birthday), failed to gain any momentum from the birdie he made on No. 18 to close out his first nine on Friday. He made the turn at 1 under par, but suffered five bogeys coming in to shoot a 74, eight strokes behind leader Andrew Landry. He hit 12 of 14 fairways, but only hit 10 of 18 greens.
The 1990 U.S. Amateur champion has won five major championships, but no U.S. Open titles. He has been a runner-up a record six times in this championship. Mickelson came into this week fresh off a runner-up finish in the FedEx St. Jude Classic in Memphis, Tenn.
66 For Landry Puts Him in Exclusive Company: His Own
Andrew Landry stands alone – at least for now.
An unheralded PGA Tour rookie has his own place in Oakmont Country Club history, ahead of a couple of legendary golfers with a combined 18 major championships, including five U.S. Opens. Landry drained a 10½-foot birdie putt early Friday morning to put the finishing touch on a 4-under-par 66, the lowest first-round score ever shot in the record nine U.S. Opens at Oakmont. Landry had played his approach to No. 9 before weather halted play for the final time on Thursday afternoon.
Ben Hogan and Gary Player shared the previous record at 67. Hogan posted his round en route to his fourth and final U.S. Open title in 1953, a year in which he won all three major championships he entered (he did not play in the PGA Championship). Player opened the 1973 Open with that score and finished 12th, eight strokes behind winner Johnny Miller.
“I just think the U.S. Open suits my game so well,” said Landry, of Austin, Texas, who is No. 624 in the Official World Golf Ranking. “I’m not a guy who is going to go out and shoot 61, 62.”
A heavy pounding of rain the past 24 hours should create more scoring opportunities than usual, so the question is out there: Will Landry’s record stand? An entire wave of 78 golfers still had to tee off when play resumed at 7:30 a.m. EDT. That group includes the likes of world No. 1 Jason Day, five-time major champion Phil Mickelson and 2013 U.S. Open champion Justin Rose, players certainly capable of going low.
Landry, one of 27 golfers who endured local and sectional qualifying to play at Oakmont, noted after finishing his round that low scores are “definitely doable” with the course softened by more than 2 inches of rain in the past 36 hours.
In 1973, club professional Gene Borek established an Oakmont 18-hole record when he shot 65 in Round 2. The mark stood for 48 hours until Miller rallied to win the championship with his remarkable final-round 63.
As they say, records are made to be broken.