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We’ll be missing the top three players in the world for this weekend’s U.S. Open finish, but it’ll hardly be without major storylines. Perhaps it’ll even be golf’s most captivating star playing the main role come Sunday evening.
Rickie Fowler owned the headlines for most of the first two days at Erin Hills, but it’s a crowded leaderboard atop America’s national championship. Through two rounds, two Americans — Brooks Koepka and Brian Harman — share the lead alongside two Englishmen — Paul Casey and Tommy Fleetwood — at 7-under par. Fowler seemed as if he was on cruise control for the first nine on Friday, holding the lead at 9-under par, before making his first three bogeys of the tournament on the 11th, 12th, and 13th holes and falling one behind the quartet of leaders.
Let’s get to the other major notes from a long day on the Kettle Moraine.
Hideki Golf is beautiful
Have you ever seen something so beautiful, so magical, so majestic.
Let’s start with a simple, bold statement: Hideki Matsuyama played the best round of golf I’ve ever seen in person on Friday. Not talking most impactful round, or biggest moment, or even score. I followed Fowler, Matsuyama, and Jon Rahm for a good chunk of the day on Friday — and I’ve never seen a dude hit so many shots just on the screws. It was a clinical dissection of a brutally large golf course. A show. A concerto. Joga bonito.
It’s not often a guy turns in a 7-under 65 in the US Open and we’re talking about how it could’ve gone better. But he still had a number of near-misses with the putter that could’ve put us into beyond-Johnny territory. Just one shot off the tournament record to par. Historical. That’s the type of performance Matsuyama put forward on Friday. What should be scary for the rest of the golf world is just how typical such a performance could be from the Japanese star all the time.
After early exits from Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy, and Jason Day, he’ll be the highest-ranked player remaining in the field this weekend. Don’t be shocked if he takes home the title come Sunday night.
History! But the bad kind
Since the inception of the Official World Golf Ranking, never had the top three players in the world all missed the cut at the same major. That’s now no longer the case.
Despite all the lip service about how Erin Hills’ length might play to their advantage, Johnson, McIlroy, and Day will all exit stage right before the weekend begins. In fact, only four of the world’s top ten players made the cut at Erin Hills — Matsuyama, Fowler, Sergio Garcia, and Jordan Spieth. Woof.
For McIlroy, the struggles came as a surprise — even after his injury layoff.
“You play 54 holes around here before the golf tournament, I felt really, really comfortable. I drove the ball well, my irons were good. Everything was in good shape,” McIlroy said. “But you never really know until you put a card in your hand and you’re under the gun little bit. And some of the weaknesses and flaws that are in my game at the minute showed up over the last couple of days. It’s good to see those and see what needs to be worked on.”
A quick note about Jon Rahm’s “antics”
Start here: Jon Rahm is a star. He’s a future superstar, a huge talent, and he’s going to win majors. Multiple.
Having said that, there’s been a bit of talk growing louder and louder about the 22-year-old’s on-course antics when things turn south. The Spaniard struggled alongside Fowler and Matsuyama, and he got rather demonstrative through the course of the round. I watched him club toss, moan, and struggle through most of the front nine, with an outburst on the seventh tee sticking out in my mind. Kevin Van Valkenburg caught this later in the round