BROOKLINE, Mass. -- The featured group in the first half of Friday's second round at the 2022 U.S. Open lived up to the hype and helped set the stage for what should be a fantastic weekend at The Country Club.
Scottie Scheffler, Brooks Koepka and Cameron Smith all entered the week ranked inside the top 18 of the PGA Tour rankings. They've won 28 PGA Tour tournaments and five major championships between them.
The range of emotions for each of them following Friday's action was quite different, though.
Scottie Scheffler was 2-over par through the first six holes, and it looked like it could be a rough day for the reigning Masters champion. But instead of letting frustration get the best of him, Scheffler responded in impressive fashion and entered the clubhouse with a share of the lead at 3-under par.
"Just staying patient. I knew I was swinging it well," Scheffler said of his mindset early in the round. "I was 2-over through six and I didn't think I had a bad swing yet. But that's the U.S. Open, it's just hard. I kinda lost focus there on No. 5 and 6, got right back into it, and I just played really well after that. I hit a lot of good shots."
The turnaround started on the 8th hole, where Scheffler birdied one of only two Par 5s on the course. After four consecutive pars, Scheffler birdied again on the 13th hole. His signature moment came on the 14th. Despite his second shot landing in the rough to the left of the fairway, he holed in an eagle, drawing a massive roar from the many fans wrapped around the fairway and green.
"I hit a great drive down the middle and then I had kind of a funny lie on a semi-downslope that made the shot on the green much harder," Scheffler said of the 14th hole. "I caught it a hair thin and it hit the tree. Fortunately, it didn't hit the tree and fall backwards. It kinda just fell down in front of it. I had a good lie, hit a good chip and it went in."
All of a sudden, Scheffler went from 2-over to 2-under in a span of eight holes, putting him one stroke behind the leaders.
Scheffler's tee shot on the Par 3 16th hole also was a beauty, setting himself up for another birdie attempt. He sunk the putt, vaulting him into a first-place tie on the leaderboard at 3-under.
Scheffler nearly birdied the 17th, too, but ended his round with back-to-back pars. His 4-under score for the day was the best of the round at the time.
"I was just staying patient," Scheffler said. "I was hitting it well most of the day. Two silly bogeys earlier in the round, but outside of that, I hit it really well, I was in good position most of the day. If a couple more putts would've fallen in versus around the edge, it would've been a special day. But 3-under was a good score for me, especially being 2-over through six."
Koepka shot 3-over on Thursday with six bogeys. It was an unusually poor round for him at a tournament he's dominated in recent years. He responded Friday in the fashion you'd expect from a two-time U.S. Open champion.
Koepka birdied the 3rd hole on a long putt from the fairway. It's arguably the best putt of the tournament so far.
After finishing the remaining holes on the front nine with pars, Koepka ran into a little trouble on the 10th hole, where he bogeyed to fall back to 3-over. The next four holes put him right back in the mix, beginning with back-to-back birdies on the 11th and 12th holes.
Similar to Scheffler, the real magic for Koepka came on the 14th hole, where he eagled.
"I hit a 4-iron. I think Scottie hit a 4-iron as well," Koepka said of his eagle. "It was kind of awkward -- that tree makes it difficult and we were both in the left-center of the fairway, so you really have to turn it around that tree. Scottie -- I thought it was going to get over that tree and it didn't. It went through, and mine just skirted it and got lucky enough to roll up there. His chip in was pretty solid, so I felt like I had to make it."
Koepka bogeyed the 15th hole to go back to even par. His tee shot on the 17th flew to the right of the fairway, hit a fan and rolled right past where I was standing. Despite a poor lie, Koepka hit the green on his second shot and was able to save par. That hole could've gone far worse.
He finished at even par through two rounds and sits just three strokes off the lead (as of this writing). It was strong bounce back for Koepka, even though he sees plenty of room for improvement in his game.
"I'm driving the ball really well. Putting the ball in the fairway, that's important. Iron play has been horrific the last two days," Koepka said. "I gotta clean that up, just coming out of it a little bit. I don't know if it has to do with the turf being quite tight, but it's an easy fix and I just got to be a little more on top of it."
Koepka has finished top four in each of his last four U.S. Open appearances, including consecutive victories in 2017 and 2018. He is very much a threat entering the weekend.
Speaking of the weekend, it's uncertain if Smith will be taking part in Saturday's third round.
Fans loved Smith's mullet Friday and, to be fair, it really is quite stunning. Unfortunately for Smith, it was pretty much the only impressive aspect of his second round. The No. 8 ranked golfer in the world had an absolutely brutal day.
After finishing 2-over Thursday, Smith was 4-over on Friday. At 6-over through 36 holes, the 28-year-old from Australia is in severe danger of missing the cut, which is currently projected to be 3-over.
Smith was a popular pick to break through at The Country Club and win his first career major tournament. He'll have to wait until next month's British Open to resume chasing that goal.
As for Scheffler and Koepka, it's hard to bet against them entering the weekend. They are two major champions playing with plenty of confidence right now.
"I feel like I'm kinda an under-the-radar person," Scheffler said. "I don't feel like there's a lot of chatter going on with me. Rory (McIlroy) won last week. Tiger (Woods) was at the PGA Championship. I've been No. 1 in the world for a while now and it doesn't really feel like it. I kinda like flying under the radar, showing up and doing my thing and then getting rest."
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