“It’s a totally different ball game. It’s survival for par.”
Those were the words uttered by Sir Nick Faldo early into the broadcast of the afternoon play of the second round of the 2020 U.S. Open at Winged Foot.
After the opening round in which Justin Thomas (Titleist Pro V1x) led with a five-under-par, the lowest score in the first 18 holes of the previous six U.S. Opens at Winged Foot, the players had to feel confident. Several were in the red.
Well, a day later Winged Foot lived up to its reputation as one of the most difficult courses in the world. After playing without any wind conditions on the opening day, it picked up significantly during round two. Thomas shot a three-over-par.
The greens, which have some mind-boggling undulations and false fronts that require some imaginative shots, were starting to bake.
The rough, which is thick and deep, is playing havoc.
Meanwhile, the United States Golf Association, as is its custom, will likely make the pin placements tougher.
So, the final 36 holes should be interesting, if only because in the words of Faldo it will be survival for par.
In my blog leading into the tournament, I touted Patrick Reed (Titleist Pro V1), Webb Simpson (Titleist Pro V1) and Xander Schauffele (Callaway Chrome Soft X) as the players I picked to win. All three are strongly in contention, in particular Reed. He had a four-under-par after the second round, one-shot better than Bryson DeChambeau (Bridgestone Tour B X). Schauffele is four behind Reed while Simpson is six behind. If any of the three prevail I will humbly say I told you so. Loved how Reed, also known as Captain America, rocked the red, blue and white on opening day, showing his patriotism. His short game was on point in the second round, in which he was even on the round.
DeChambeau, the mad scientist of the links, came into the tournament promising to attack the course with his driver. He has done fairly well keeping it in the fairways and has done okay with his putter, including an eagle in the second round. DeChambeau finished at three-under-par after shooting two-under-par on Friday.
Remember when DeChambeau was the hottest player on the PGA Tour in the first four tournaments when the schedule started again after a 91-day break caused by COVID-19? Vegas betting shops offered a proposition wager for him sweeping the majors this year. That came to an end when he tied for fourth in the PGA Championship. He boggles the mind with some of his philosophies and has drawn criticism from fellow players and analysts such as Faldo. But it’s not like he hasn’t done well this year.
Suffice to say if DeChambeau stays in contention, it will be interesting, both for the viewers and the boisterous crowd watching from homes lining the course. Spectators aren’t allowed in because of COVID, and if ever there was a tournament that is missing a gallery it is this one because it is in New York. New Yorkers make any kind tournament on their home soil an added attraction with their unbridled enthusiasm.
Meanwhile, Dustin Johnson (TaylorMade TP5x), the hottest player on the planet and the overwhelming favorite to win going into the tournament, is definitely in contention at three-over-par, seven back of Reed. He has been a little off his game with his putting, though the trickiness of the greens is the reason. Keep any eye on him.
Phil Mickelson (Callaway Chrome Soft X), who finished tied for second back in 2006 the last time Winged Foot played host to the tournament, failed to make the cut at 13-over-par. The U.S. Open is the only major he hasn’t won in his brilliant career, and having turned 50 this year and seemingly scuffling playing against younger players who can mash it a ton, well, it isn’t going to get any easier for Mickelson.
As for Tiger Woods (Bridgestone Tour B X), he also missed the cut at 10-over-par, including a seven-over-par in the second round in which he was clearly frustrated. That said, he received tremendous applause from those cheering from the sideline. I’m not sure that will ever change.