With the soaking, softening, overnight rain and no wind, scoring on Saturday at Erin Hills was always going to be good. But holy smokes, nobody saw this coming.
Out a couple of hours before the second-round leaders, Patrick Reed set the tone, firing the fourth 65 of the week and missing a 10-footer on 18 for would have tied the all-time single-round U.S. Open record of 8-under par.
That was the story for about half an hour.
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Then, Justin Thomas, who shot 59 in a PGA Tour event in January and hits it ridiculously long for a man his size, went on a tear. Thomas birdied six holes on the front, including three in a row on Nos. 7, 8 and 9, along with one bogey to get to 7 under for the championship. He gave one back on 10, but birdied 12, 15 and 17. A birdie on the par-4 18th and he would tie the all-time Open scoring record.
But Thomas had something more dramatic in mind. After a 330-yard drive, he had 299 yards to the flag and hit the hardest, fastest 3-wood of the week, a shot so well-struck that he said, “Oh, gosh Jimmy, be good!” before the ball hit its apex. An 8-foot eagle putt later and Thomas had a 9-under 63, the lowest round in relation to par ever fired in 117 playings of the U.S. Open.
The fact that his 11-under total wasn’t leading at the end of the day says a lot for the scoring conditions at this venue.
Brian Harman, one of the shortest hitters in the field, picked apart the longest course in U.S. Open history. The 30-year-old University of Georgia graduate from Savannah missed two fairways all day (not by much) but hit his irons as straight as bullets. The southpaw made six birdies and one bogey for a 5-under 67, a 12-under total and a one-shot lead over Thomas, Tommy Fleetwood and Brooks Koepka.
This is Harman’s third U.S. Open and the first time he’s ever made the cut. The fact that he lives and plays at St. Simons Island with a crop of Tour pros who outdrive him by 50 to 80 yards has put a heavy chip on Harman’s shoulder.
“I got here by working hard and staying in the moment,” Harman said. “I know my game. I can’t hit it as far as some of those guys, but I hit it far enough. I know what I can do. Let’s go out and have a good time tomorrow.”
Fleetwood, the 26-year-old Englishman with long hair and what is a beard only in the academic sense (and who could play Mick Fleetwood circa 1977 in a movie), held a share of the lead through 17 holes Saturday. But from just short of the final green, Fleetwood made a mess of things, hitting his third shot short, then rolling his fourth off the back. He pitched his fifth on and made bogey to tie Thomas and Koepka at 11 under.
First-round leader Rickie Fowler shot 68 to reach 10 under and two back.