ERIN, Wis. – Welcome to Erin Hills, home of the 117th United States Wide, Wide Open.
The scoreboard doesn’t look like your regular U.S. Open. Four under par isn’t even in the top 10, and 1 over par is the cutline. That sounds like it’s straight out of the old Greater Milwaukee Open, a birdie-fest, not the U.S. Open. But it’s true.
The course doesn’t look like a U.S. Open course. This is the third leg of what I’m calling the Sunburn Tour: four straight Open venues (Chambers Bay, Oakmont and Shinnecock Hills next year) that have almost no trees in play and, worse, almost no shade where fans can get cover. It looks good on TV, though, especially with the haunting edifice of Holy Hill, a Catholic basilica, looming in the distance. With the deep fescue reeds swaying in the breeze and few trees, though, it looks more like a British Open broke out.
The leaderboard doesn’t look like a U.S. Open leaderboard, either. Golf’s biggest names are missing, and a lot of medium and not-so-medium names are at the top. So far, it’s looking likely that this Open champion will be a seventh consecutive first-time major-championship winner.
Four men share the 36-hole lead at 7 under par: Englishmen Paul Casey and Tommy Fleetwood and Americans Brian Harman and Brooks Koepka. Here’s how bunched the field is: 28 other players are within five shots of the lead.
Thursday and Friday were just the undercards, however. Weekends are what majors are all about and where the test really begins, and where this finally starts to resemble the merciless U.S. Open we’re used to watching.
“I have no illusions that 7 under is going to win this golf tournament,” said tour veteran Brandt Snedeker, tied for eighth, two shots back. “Things are going to toughen up, depending on the weather, so it’s going to be a dogfight over the weekend and be a U.S. Open. It’s going to be tough.”
This Open flew wide Open when first-round leader Rickie Fowler looked sharp and extended his record no-bogey-streak to start an open to 28 holes but suddenly made three bogeys in a row after that. Fowler’s backup gave hope to the pursuers.
“Yeah, I hate being in a situation where I’ve been in a good spot and maybe let it get away from me a little and let some mistakes compound,” Fowler said after a 73 dropped him into a tie for fifth with Jamie Lovemark (69) and J.B. Holmes (69), one stroke behind. “But I’m playing the weekend, I have a tee time Saturday and you learn along the way to never give up. You never know what one shot is going to count for.”
Anyone who made the cut still has a chance, believe it or not. Jordan Spieth (71) is seven shots back, at even; Masters champion Sergio Garcia (71) and two-time major champion Martin Kaymer (69) are four back, at 3 under; two-time U.S. Open winner Ernie Els, at 47, shot 72 and trails by five.
You might want to keep on eye on Si Woo Kim, the 21-year old Korean boy wonder who won The Players Championship last month. He is two strokes off the lead and keeps posting numbers like he’s a superstar waiting to happen.
Garcia also is right where he prefers to be, just off the radar. He hardly has been noticed this week. It would be amusing if he went from being the Best Player Never To Win a Major to winning the first two legs of the Grand Slam in the space of two months.
“To be 3 under par with a chance on the weekend, I’m proud of that,” Garcia said. “The greens are getting U.S. Open-like but not as firm as they’re going to get if we don’t get rain. My game is on when the course plays tougher. We’ll see.”
Over the next 36 holes, we’ll all see.