The leader board at the 116th U.S. Open has become a haven for the unlucky, the disheartened and the defeated, littered with players who desperately have been chasing a major title in the past three decades.
At the top of the list is Dustin Johnson, who for 36 holes has been looking nothing like the unpredictable Dustin Johnson, going a rock-steady 32 holes without a bogey and hitting a U.S. Open-record 26 consecutive greens in regulation.
Not far back are battle-scarred players who have combined for the two longest winless droughts in major championships — England’s Lee Westwood and Spain’s Sergio Garcia, whose 0-for-142 streak would make the Chicago Cubs blush.
But at the end of what was a very disjointed day at Oakmont Country Club, the clubhouse lead belonged to Johnson at 4-under 136, one of just 50 players to complete 36 holes in this weather-interrupted event. Andrew Landry, whose only shot of the day was a 10-foot birdie putt that completed his first round in the morning, also is at 4 under, but he won’t play his second round until today.
“I felt like I played really good all day,” Johnson said. “I drove it well, hit a lot of good iron shots and had a lot of good looks at birdie. And I made a couple crucial par saves.”
Johnson’s day began at 9:06 a.m. when he started an opening round of 67, and finished in the fading light with a 69 that got in right before the horn sounded to suspend play at 8:42 p.m. He became only the second player in a U.S, Open at Oakmont to open with a back-to-back sub-par rounds, joining Hale Irwin in 1994.
Johnson has put himself in position to make another run at a U.S. Open title — and his first major title — after the heartache of a year ago at Chambers Bay, when he missed a 3-foot putt at the 72nd hole that would have forced a playoff with Jordan Spieth. But Johnson has had a series of disappointments in his previous 28 major appearances and thinks this one could be different.
“I just need to stick to what I’m doing,” Johnson said. “I got a good game plan for this golf course. If I keep driving it like I can, I’ll be tough.”
Landry, who shot 66, put himself in the U.S. Open record book when he became the first tournament rookie to lead the Open after any round.
“I kind of did this with Q-school as well,” Landry said. “I told myself so many times over the years in my life that, if I get into the U.S. Open, if I get into Q-school, I’ll be able to make it. I’ll be able to do fine.”
The Q in this case stands for quaking, which is what Landry might be doing in his shoes if he considers the players around him. And the magnitude of where he is.
He has played only 18 holes, and Oakmont is growing testier as it continues to dry from more than 3 inches of rain that pelted the grounds the previous 24 hours. He will begin his second round with 77 other players at 7 a.m. today, then turn right around and start his third round at approximately 3 p.m. That list includes defending champion Spieth, who is at 72 after playing just seven holes in the morning.
“I know that at the end of the day, the USGA is going to try to have even par win the golf tournament, and I know that I can shoot 2 under in the remaining 54 holes no matter how the course plays,” Spieth said. “I know I’m capable of it. I’m in it.”
Despite conditions getting more difficult, Oakmont yielded plenty of birdies. Daniel Summerhays shot the low round of the tournament (65) with seven birdies that included a back-nine 30. Justin Thomas made seven birdies, but offset those with two double bogeys in an afternoon round of 69.
“I’m not going to lie, it was much easier than it was in the practice rounds because of the rain,” said Garcia, who shot 68 in the morning and finished at 2-under 138, thanks to a 51-foot par-saving putt at No. 9, his final hole. But then he added, “It’s definitely the toughest [course] I’ve ever played. There’s no doubt about it.”
Westwood, who finished tied for second at the Masters, birdied his final two holes in the morning to shoot 67 and, like Landry, get the rest of the day off.
“One of the best starts I’ve ever had,” Westwood said. “I was shaping it both ways, which you need to do in U.S. Opens to get at a lot of the flags.”
Lofty positions at majors are nothing new for Johnson, Garcia and Westwood. Among them, they have combined for nine second-place finishes, seven third-place finishes and two fourth-place showing in 170 majors. Alas, no wins.
Gerry Dulac: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @gerrydulac.