You knew it was coming. No matter how great your ballstriking, no matter how solid your touch, the nerves that lurk atop major championship leaderboards eventually rub raw, sending a shock through you at exactly the wrong time.
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|Si Woo Kim
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Such was the case with Rickie Fowler, who played 28 holes without a bogey or much of a mis-hit. The only fairway Fowler had missed of note in the first round-and-a-half was a 3-wood at the par-5 seventh on Friday that didn’t carry quite far enough and found a fairway bunker. From there, the 28-year-old, who recently inherited the mantle of “best player without a major” from Sergio García, laid up, hit a wedge deep and promptly drained a 50-footer from the fringe for birdie.
Fowler looked calm, mature, and in command of every aspect of his game … until he didn’t. He missed the fairway by a couple of paces on 11 and flew the green with his approach leading to his first bogey. He followed that up with two consecutive three-putts to fall to 6 under, a shot behind Paul Casey, who made two bogeys and a triple bogey in his first six holes early Friday morning before rallying with five consecutive birdies for a 1-under 71 and a 7-under total.
Casey had practiced, eaten, and could have showered and taken a nap between his round ending and Fowler’s falter.
“Not every day you enjoy a round of golf with an 8 on the card, but I’m a pretty happy man,” Casey said. “It was a bit of a roller coaster. I guess it’s (impossible to) get through a U.S. Open or any major without some kind of hiccup.”
Brooks Koepka, who shot 70 and enters the weekend tied for the lead, survived his hiccup relatively unscathed. After making four birdies in his first seven holes on Friday, Koepka played Nos. 18, 1, and 2, the three easiest holes on the course, in 1-over par. Still, he had a 4-footer on the par-3 ninth (his last hole of the day) to take the outright lead but pulled it and settled for par.
A horde of players would have taken a 2-under day and sprinted back to Milwaukee. Among them were the top three players in the world ranking: Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy and Jason Day, all of whom missed the cut by healthy margins.
Meanwhile, Casey and Koepka were joined atop the leaderboard by Brian Harman, one of the straightest hitters on tour, and England’s Tommy Fleetwood. Both shot 70 on Friday.
Joining Fowler (73) at 6 under were Jamie Lovemark and J.B. Holmes, each of whom shot 69.
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Hideki Matsuyama and Chez Reavie posted the day’s low rounds of 65 and sit at 5 under and 4 under, respectively.
The players who own a major championship sitting closest to the lead are García and Martin Kaymer, tied for 19th at 3 under. That is far from out of it. In fact, with 1-over making the cut, anybody playing the weekend still has a chance in this one.