US Open analysis: What to know about Rickie Fowler, Xander Schauffele and more

The sun finally appeared on Friday afternoon in Los Angeles, revealing a firmer and more difficult evaluation for players in Round 2 of the 123rd US Open.

A day after Rickie Fowler and Xander Schauffele shot the only 62s in US Open history, the low round of the day was a more palatable 65 by Min Woo Lee. Nine players enter the weekend at or within five shots of the lead, but with the conditions getting tougher, the contenders’ casting call is likely to grow beyond that number.

Here are the best numbers and notes to know from the United States Open.

1. Fowler carded a Friday 68 to give him a 36-hole total of 130, tying Martin Kaymer in 2014 at Pinehurst for the lowest 36-hole opening in US Open history. Fowler’s round was anything but bland: eight birdies, six bogeys and just four pars on his meandering journey to a score of 2-under. In the last 20 years, Fowler’s performance on Friday is the only time at the US Open that a player has broken par with four or fewer pars on the scorecard.

Fowler birdied each of his first three holes, moving him to 11 under par faster than any player in Championship history. The previous mark for fewest holes to reach 11 under was 32 holes by Rory McIlroy at Congressional back in 2011. Fowler’s 18 birdies obliterated the old record for most made through two rounds at the US Open: Prior to today, the record was held by Gil Morgan at Pebble Beach in 1992 with 14. Last year’s champion Matt Fitzpatrick made 19 birdies or better for the entire tournament. In 23 of the previous 30 years, Fowler’s two-round total of 18 would lead or be tied for the lead over all 72 holes.

Fowler is ranked second in the field in both strokes gained tee-to-green and strokes gained putting. Can his comeback crescendo this week with his first big win?

2. Alongside Fowler in the final pairing Saturday will be Wyndham Clark, who made just one bogey Friday in his 3-under-par 67. This is the first time Clark has been in the top 50 through 36 holes in a major championship. It’s the biggest stage he’s ever played on, but last month Clark stared down one of the game’s best and didn’t blink. At the Wells Fargo Championship, Clark trailed Schauffele by a stroke with 11 holes remaining. He ended up dusting Schauffele with four strokes.

Clark has been excellent on and around the greens this week – leading the field in strokes gained around the green and tied for fourth in strokes gained putting. Impressive touch for a man known more for his sheer athleticism: He has the sixth-fastest clubhead speed on the PGA Tour in 2023.

3. McIlroy is just two shots back, making it the third time in the last five majors that McIlroy has been in the top three through 36 holes. It is the fourth time McIlroy has started a major championship with two consecutive rounds of 67 or better. In each of the other three occasions – the 2011 US Open, the 2014 Open Championship and the 2014 PGA – he went on to win.

The oft-lamented facets of McIlroy’s game have been stark throughout two days. A week after ranking nearly last near the hole from 50-125 yards, he beats the field average by more than five feet in that statistic. He’s also fifth in strokes gained putting this week, looking less stiff on LACC’s greens. With his driver, he has been his usual fantastic self, leading the tournament in strokes gained off the tee.

Friday was the eighth time McIlroy shot 67 or lower in the US Open, a score that broke a tie with Jack Nicklaus for the second most such rounds in the history of this championship. Only Louis Oosthuizen (nine times) has done it more often.

4. As the sun emerged on Friday afternoon, the LACC became noticeably warmer. Afternoon scores in Round 2 averaged nearly two strokes higher than they did Thursday. Over two days, players holding the late/early draw had a two-shot advantage over the other half of the tee times. Twenty-nine players are under par heading into the weekend, a less nauseating number than many expected after the birdie barrage on Day 1. You only have to go back to 2019 to find more 36-hole totals under par at a US Open (31 week at Pebble Beach) .

What didn’t change in Round 2 was how easily players were able to find the fairways. Through two days, the driving accuracy for the field is 66.5 percent, which would rank 33rd out of 39 courses this season on the PGA Tour.

5. A day after coasting to a bogey-free 62, Schauffele struggled through a more familiar US Open round today. The No. 6 player in the world made four birdies and four bogeys on Friday to card an even par 70 in noticeably tougher conditions. Those firmer greens undoubtedly accounted for the significant dip Schauffele saw in his approach, playing numbers. On Thursday, Schauffele hit 16 greens in regulation and gained 3.71 strokes on the course with his approach shots. On Friday, he got less than half a shot on the course and hit just 13 greens. Schauffele also struggled on the greens Friday, losing more than 1.2 strokes to fieldputting.

That makes the end of his round even more impressive. Schauffele was the only player in the field Friday to birdie 17 and 18, and is just two back heading into the weekend.

6. Can you name the three players who finished in the top five in two of the previous three US Opens? Two you might get – Oosthuizen seemed to be at the top of every major leaderboard for the last few years and Collin Morikawa is a two-time major champion. The third may not be so easy. It’s Harris English – a man just three shots off the pace heading into Round 3 in Los Angeles.

Like many, English obliterated the front nine over two days, playing it at 7 under. His putting, which has been a strength in recent years (top 30 in strokes gained for the fourth time in five seasons), has been outstanding this week. He is third in the field in strokes gained on the greens as we enter the third round.

7. Things could have gone horribly wrong this morning for 2016 US Open champion Dustin Johnson. On the second hole, he made a quadruple bogey, a first in his US Open career. But he battled back to shoot 70, becoming the only player in the last 30 years at this championship to make a quad (or worse) in a round and still shoot even par or better. Johnson played his final 11 holes today in 4-under par, bogey-free fashion.

In the 40 years that hole-by-hole data can be reliably tracked, no one has won a major championship making a quadruple bogey or worse along the way. The only player to make a triple bogey and still win the US Open in that period is Tiger Woods in 2000, who carded a seven on the third hole in Round 3 and still managed to win by 15 shots.

8. Sam Bennett has become a fixture in major championships this year. The newly turned pro is tied for eighth, making him the only player in the top 10 through 36 holes at both the Masters and US Open in 2023. His opening scores of 67 and 68 make him the first reigning US amateur champion to start a US Open with back-to-back rounds in the 60s. The former Texas A&M Aggie made just one bogey Friday, tying for the fewest players in the field.

9. A day after the 15th hole surrendered a pair of aces, Fitzpatrick hit the course Friday and made the first hole-in-one of his PGA Tour career. Fitzpatrick is the first reigning US Open champion to make a hole-in-one and just the second player from outside the United States to win the US Open and make a hole-in-one at the US Open in his career. Gary Player is the other.

10. Twenty-five of the previous 27 US Open winners were within three shots of the lead after 36 holes. Fifteen of the last 17 champions were in the top five going into the 3rd round. With the track expected to be firmer and faster this weekend, will these trends break up a bit and allow more chasers to have a chance? We are ready for an exciting weekend of golf in California.

(Photo: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

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