PEBBLE BEACH — The first two days of the 119th U.S. Open have been revelatory. Gary Woodland is using a suddenly hot putter to torch the Monterey Peninsula, while Justin Rose is lurking close behind despite an surprising display of inaccuracy off the tee and with his usually laser-sharp irons. Meanwhile, tension was clearly running high for Jordan Spieth as well as Patrick Reed. Then there’s Rory McIlroy and Brooks Koepka, looking much like themselves as they content for another major title.
With 36 holes to play, though, there are still “other” storylines to keep an eye on. Here are five intriguing ones to watch this weekend:
1. For the first two days, Pebble Beach has been relatively benign, both in setup and in weather conditions. The scoring averages were nearly identical at right around 72.5 in each of the two opening rounds (Friday’s was actually slightly lower than Thursday’s), and the two-over 144 cutline was the lowest it has ever been for a U.S. Open at the famed links course. But will it stay this way through the weekend? The weather is expected to be pretty much the same as it was the first two days, but if it starts to get breezy, the greens could get more crispy. Recall, too, that everything seem calm a year ago at Shinnecock Hills until the winds unexpectedly picked up on Saturday afternoon.
2. Pretenders or contenders? It seems every year an unexpected name or five pops up on leader board, and this year is no exception for the most democratic of majors, with Aaron Wise (T-4), Chez Reavie (T-6), Chesson Hadley (T-6) and Matt Wallace (T-6) all in the top 10. Will any of them still be there come Sunday? Wallace might not be as familiar to American fans, but the fiery 29-year-old Englishman is 26th in the world and has four career wins on the European Tour. He improved on his first-round 70 with a second-round 68 to sit five off the lead. He also tied for third at last month’s PGA Championship.
3. Speaking of temperamental players, after watching Lucas Bjerregaard chuck his disobedient driver into Stillwater Cove on his way to making an 11 on the 18th on Thursday, and Reed snap a wedge over his leg en route to a double on 18 on Friday, one has to wonder how much longer Jon Rahm can keep his cool. He has been remarkably poised for a guy who should be at least six under (or lower) but is instead three under and six back. Perhaps it’s a sign the 24-year-old Spaniard is maturing?
4. Nearly a decade ago, Graeme McDowell won the first of what many expected would be multiple majors. Then life intervened with off-course distractions (family, business, etc.) pulling him in a million directions. As is often the case, his golf suffered. Now he sounds like the G-Mac of old and is starting to play like his old self, too. “The goals I had set for myself, my playing credentials in the PGA Tour, getting in the Open Championship, getting myself back in the top 100 and top 50 in the world,” he said Friday, “I was worried I was setting myself too lofty goals. But as I stand here, I’m really ticking all the boxes, and it’s a case of putting the pedal down and looking for more out of myself. … I’ve always been known as a grinder, and the word clutch comes into conversation from time to time, which is nice. And I feel like those labels have started to peel off, and it’s nice to reattach those a little bit. I played the type of golf that I know I’m capable of, and I want one more run at the top of the sport.”
5. You can’t make one of these lists without Tiger Woods, even if he’s nine back after a horrendous bogey-bogey finish that had him running hot afterward. His ball-striking has been good enough, but his putting will obviously need to improve from Friday to even have a chance. He’s also probably going to need some help to be in this one come Sunday. “The golf course can be a little bit faster, a little bit more springy than it was today, and scores will continue to back up a little bit,” Woods said. “They got it right where they want it. It’s just a matter of how much will it dry out from morning to afternoon. The fairways were a bit slow and soft. I don’t think they put mowers on them this morning. And the short areas, the run-ups, man, they’re firm. So if they get the greens anywhere like that, it will be a hell of a test.”