And then there were two. Of the nine Australians who started this 118th US Open, only Marc Leishman (143) and Aaron Baddeley (146) remain.
For the others – Jason Scrivener (149), Matt Jones (150), Cam Smith (151), Jason Day (152), David Bransdon (153) Adam Scott (153) and Lucas Herbert (157) – and it was “see-ya later” as the halfway cut eliminated everyone over 148, eight over-par for two circuits of the iconic and often brutally unforgiving Shinnecock Hills course.
Still, even Leishman has a bit to do if he is to be the first Australian in 12 years to win what Americans refer to as “the national Open.” Despite a well-played second round of 69, the man from Warrnambool is seven shots behind the halfway leader, Dustin Johnson. After a 67 that was bettered only by Tommy Fleetwood’s 66, the 2016 champion is the only man under par, four shots clear of Americans Scott Piercy and Charley Hoffman. Both are level par for the 36-holes played.
A whole host of quality challengers are sitting on one-over par. All of them – Ian Poulter, Fleetwood, Henrik Stenson, Justin Rose, defending champion Brooks Koepka and Rickie Fowler – will surely fancy their chances of further progress over the weekend.
Poulter, it must be said, could and should have been closer. But a calamitous triple-bogey seven on the 8th hole – his 17th – and a bogey to finish undid much good work by the Englishman.
All in all though, it was Johnson’s day. Playing with uncharacteristic caution and a maturity that does not augur well for his pursuers, the long-hitting South Carolinian stuck to what was obviously a pre-planned strategy. Playing with a beautiful control not normally associated with one so powerful, he picked his way through the dangerous array of thick rough and deep bunkers. Only once, at his opening hole, did Johnson drop a shot.
“This was another solid round, played really well,” said Johnson. “I did hit a couple of bad iron shots, but every time I felt like I was able to save par or at least give myself a really good look at par. It was just really solid in tough conditions.
“I like where par is a good score on every hole no matter what club you’ve got in your hands. The fairways are fairly generous but with crosswinds on every hole they’re still tough to hit. And even with a wedge you’ve still got to hit a good shot just to give yourself a 15-footer.”
Still, with two rounds to play on a course where danger lurks almost everywhere, nothing is certain. Rose put it best.
“What we all have to remember,” said the 2013 U.S Open champion, “is that Dustin is only one bad hole from coming back to us.”
As for Leishman, the 69 the World No.14 added to his opening 74 was the epitome of steadiness built as it was around 13 pars. Birdies came along at the 6th, 11th and 12th, just outnumbering the brace of dropped shots at the 3rd and 10th. Content enough with the quality of his game, he was, however, wary of predicting too much given how well the leader has so far performed.
“I hit the ball really well today,” was his predictable verdict. “My irons are coming out really well. I’m shaping them both ways and controlling the distance well too. That hasn’t necessarily been giving me a lot of birdie looks. But I have been making a lot of stress-free pars. That’s good for conserving energy for what is going to be a pretty tough weekend. The course is only going to get more difficult.
“Dustin has been playing great. So he is going to be hard to beat. Anyone trying to catch him is going to have to play really well. Hopefully it’s me and I can do some damage.”
Speaking of which, special mention must be made of Scrivener’s missed cut. Having opened with a disappointing 78, the South African-born Aussie played the first 17-holes of his second round in a creditable one-under par. But, needing only a bogey to squeeze into the weekend, he missed the 18th green to the right, chipped poorly and three-putted. Painful stuff.
Still, Scrivener was far from alone in his despair. He had many notable names for company on the wrong side of the cut-line. Amongst those looking for something else to do over the weekend are a host of former US Open champs – Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy, Lucas Glover, Graeme McDowell, Tiger Woods, Ernie Els and Martin Kaymer – as well as the likes of Sergio Garcia, Danny Willett, Bubba Watson, Jon Rahm, Charl Schwartzel and the unfortunate Scott Gregory. After shooting 92 on day one, the young Englishman improved by 17 shots but was still mired in last place. Maybe next year.