BROOKLINE, Mass. -- Golf fans couldn't have asked for a more fascinating leaderboard entering the weekend at the 2022 U.S. Open.
An awesome mix of established PGA Tour veterans, former major championship winners, great underdog stories and even a local favorite are in contention after two rounds at The Country Club.
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"It's great. I think it's a testament to the health and the state of this game," Jon Rahm said of the leaderboard through 36 holes. "It's pretty amazing to see Rory back to -- back, it's not like he ever went anywhere, but playing back-to-back weeks and playing at the level he can. Obviously Scottie (Scheffler) doing what he's been doing all year, Collin (Morikawa) doing what he always does, myself doing what I always try to do, as well.
"It's fun for all of us because we all want to compete against the best and beat the best, and it's obviously a lot more fun for people watching. Like I said, I think it's great for the game of golf that the highest ranked players and the best players are up there, especially in the tournament where truly the best player ends up winning."
One co-leader is Collin Morikawa, whose 4-under par was the best score on the course Friday. He made five birdies and one bogey to finish 5-under par overall. Morikawa won the 2020 PGA Championship and the 2021 British Open. A victory at the U.S. Open on Sunday would move him another step closer to the career grand slam.
"It's a major championship. It's the U.S. Open. No one has taken it deep so far and run away," Morikawa said. "Right now, my game feels really good. The last few days are a huge confident booster for me heading into this weekend. Hopefully we can make some separation."
The other co-leader is Joel Dahmen, who earned his spot at the U.S. Open during the final round of qualifying in Columbus, Ohio, last week. Dahmen is playing in just his ninth major and he missed the cut in four of the previous eight.
After Morikawa and Dahmen there are several golfers in contention with major championship victories, including Rahm, the reigning U.S. Open champion.
Rahm made three birdies, two bogeys and an eagle on the Par-5 14th to finish at 4-under par. The last two golfers to win consecutive U.S. Open titles were Brooks Koepka (2017, 2018) and Curtis Strange (1988, 1989). Strange's victory in 1988 was the last time the U.S. Open was played at The Country Club.
Rory McIlroy ran into a little trouble Friday, including a rough 3rd hole where he double-bogeyed.
But McIlroy bounced back in impressive fashion with three birdies over the last seven holes to finish at 4-under par.
Another major champion within striking distance is Scottie Scheffler, who is two stokes back at 3-under par. The reigning Masters winner played tremendous Friday with a 4-under par on the back nine, including a fantastic eagle on the Par-5 14th.
One of the best underdog stories near the top of the leaderboard is Hayden Buckley, who sits at 4-under par. He shot 2-under in each of the first two rounds, and the last four golfers since 2010 to do that at the U.S. Open all ended up winning the tournament. Buckley is ranked 250th in the world and has missed the cut in six of his last seven tournaments, but he's been dialed in this week.
"I think the biggest thing is patience," Buckley said. "We've kinda learned that more than ever, missing six of seven cuts, it's hard to have patience I think. But understanding if we have patience, we'll find something good soon and here it is."
And what about a hometown favorite?
Keegan Bradley came to Brookline as one of five players representing New England. The Vermont native -- who went to high school in Massachusetts -- made a furious charge up the leaderboard Friday before losing a bit of steam on the back nine. He made six birdies in an eight-hole span, but those successes were bookended by a bogey and a double bogey over his first three holes, as well as back-to-back bogeys on Nos. 15 and 16.
Bradley was the only one of the New England players to make the cut, and as a former major champion (2011 PGA Championship), he knows what kind of pressure to expect this weekend. He'll also have the Boston crowd behind him.
There are 15 players all within three stokes of each other atop the leaderboard going into Saturday. This group also features six of the top 18 players (and each of the top three) on the official world golf ranking.
The stage is set for another dramatic conclusion at a golf course known for some of the most thrilling championship finishes in the history of golf.
"You want to go up against the best to try to bring the best out of yourself," McIlory said. "And to see Collin and Jon and Scottie and Sam up there and whoever else, that's what major championship golf is all about. That's what competition is all about."
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