On a cool, windy day, Winged Foot turned the tables on the 2020 U.S. Open field, playing almost three strokes harder than Thursday’s opening round that saw record red numbers for a U.S. Open played over the fabled West Course.
Only three players broke par on Friday, and just seven more shot even-par 70, including leader Patrick Reed, who finished at 4-under 136 at the halfway point of the tournament. Mad scientist Bryson DeChambeau fired a 68 and stands at 3 under, just one back of Reed. First-round leader Justin Thomas stumbled to a 73 and fell into a tie for third at 2 under with Spain’s Rafa Cabrero Bello and the United States’ Harris English.
Reed’s putter has been sizzling, thus far eclipsing the incredible run Billy Casper had on these same greens en route to winning the 1959 Open. Casper took just 114 putts over four rounds that year, but Reed is on pace to shatter that record. Just like yesterday, Reed needed just 25 putts over Winged Foot’s 18 oceanic, wildly undulating greens -- a staggering feat. He’s also been a wizard with the wedges, in one instance utilizing the backboard at the murderously wicked first green to feed a ball to the edge of the cup for a brilliant par save. He’s hit just 10 fairways thus far – five each day – tying him for 91st in the field in driving accuracy, and he only hit nine greens in regulation today, but that doesn’t matter because he’s been laser perfect on the greens.
We said before the tournament that the best putter was going to win. Thus far, the best putter in the field is in the lead.
“The short game is sharp, and when I play around a place like this, that's what you need,” Reed stated. “There was a little bit more looseness off the tee, [but] I felt like I put myself in the right spots to be able to either get it on the green or get close to the green or have a good opportunity to get up-and-down for par. And I think that's the biggest thing is this golf course, even if you miss fairways, you've got to miss it in the right spots.”
Meanwhile Bryson DeChambeau went off early, avoided most of the wind and shot the low round of the day, a mercurial 68 that featured five birdies, five bogeys and a closing eagle at the par-5 ninth.
“I felt like a lot of things were working well for me," DeChambeau said. "I was driving it well. My iron play was impeccable. When I got into trouble, wasn't able to get out of it as well today as yesterday, but when I was in the fairway I was able to attack and take advantage, and finished really well today."
DeChambeau also showed a remarkable ability to bounce back from adversity, carding bounce-back birdie four times during the round.
“That’s important; it keeps your momentum going, I'll tell you that,” he said. "You need momentum to keep playing well in a U.S. Open, and that's what I was able to do today.”
Then, of course, DeChambeau became DeChambeau and started babbling incoherently about his latest, greatest epiphanies on the golf swing.
“So my wedges yesterday weren't that good,” he confided magisterically. “I was flying them too far, and I wanted to know what the problem was, and we figured out what the problem was. It just was going farther than I thought it was. We didn't practice them as well as I should have leading up to this tournament.”
DeChambeau said he was hitting his wedges too far, and that was causing him problems.
“So for me, my 47-degree flies normally 145," he continued. "Well, last night I was hitting shots and it was flying 155. That's what we were on the normalizing mode with that wind. And we just didn't calibrate correctly. So I was flying everything 10 yards long consequently with my wedges. And we recalibrated all of them today, and I felt like they worked out really well today.”
Patrick Reed chuckled when asked about playing in the last group tomorrow with DeChambeau.
“It just shows there's so many different ways to play a golf course, there's so many different ways to play the game of golf. He's kind of showing one way, and I show another, and everyone is different,” surmised Reed, an eight-time winner on the PGA Tour, including two WGC events, two FedEx Cup playoff events and the 2018 Masters.
“He sends it to the moon, and I hit it underneath the trees,” Reed concluded with a chuckle.
The only other players to break par on Friday, Hideki Matsuyama and 2-time Masters Champion Bubba Watson, each shot 69 to finish at level par (T-7) and 1 over (T-12) respectively.