UNITED STATES: Rickie Fowler looked to move clear at the top of the US Open leaderboard on Friday as rivals Rory McIlroy and Jason Day headed for the exit.
Fowler, the overnight leader after a record-equalling seven-under-par 65 on Thursday, grabbed an early birdie in his second round to move one shot clear of the field at eight under.
Under clear skies and warm sunshine, the Erin Hills course still offered plenty of encouragement after a day of record low-scoring on Thursday.
No fewer than 44 players ducked under par in the first round, and as the second round unfolded Friday, the 7,839-yard layout continued to give up birdies freely.
South Korea’s Kim Si-Woo shot a two-under-par 70 to move to five under while 22-year-old amateur Cameron Champ was alongside him after a three-under-par 69.
With Fowler not teeing off until the afternoon, the morning action was dominated by a roller coaster round from England’s Paul Casey, who recovered from a dramatic collapse to claw his way back into contention.
Casey, who had shot a six-under-par 66 on Thursday, had threatened to mount an early assault on the leaderboard but came unstuck with a disastrous triple bogey eight on the 14th.
However the 39-year-old world number 14 unfurled a sequence of five straight birdies to haul himself back up the leaderboard, carding a one-under-par 71 to finish the day at seven under.
“Not every day you enjoy a round of golf with an eight on the card, but I’m a pretty happy man,” Casey said. “It was a bit of a roller coaster.”
But while Casey was relieved after his gutsy fightback, two of the world’s top three players — McIlroy and Day — were left contemplating a missed cut.
World number three Day, needing a miracle to get back into contention after his opening 79 carded a three-over-par 75, leaving him 10 over and way outside the projected cutline.
“I was in the hay too much over the last couple of days,” Day said.
“It’s been the best preparation going into a major, I felt like, in my career, which is playing in majors and knowing what I needed to do to prep for a tournament such as this,” Day said. “It’s pretty frustrating.”
World number two McIlroy meanwhile — who earlier in the week had advised players unable to hit the fairways to “pack their bags” — was left at five-over-par after a second round 71.
Despite a flurry of late birdies it was not enough to turnaround an erratic round littered with errors and missed opportunities.
McIlroy however, who is returning from a hip and back injury, put a brave face on his second consecutive missed cut at a US Open following his exit at the halfway stage in 2016.
“I’m optimistic with where my game is,” he said. “Hopefully I’ve got a lot of the bad stuff out of my system yesterday and some parts today. It’s just a matter of getting competitive rounds under my belt.
“I’ve got a busy summer, so I’m excited to play a lot of golf. I feel like that’s going to help me to get back into contention and hopefully try to win some of these things.”