MAMARONECK, N.Y. — There was legitimate concern in the voice of Justin Thomas as he pleaded for a favorable bounce.
A lot of hard work had already been undone.
The first-round leader was in trouble off the tee Friday and hoped a scrambling approach to the first green might settle in close enough to save par. The ball was no more than six inches left of ideal and quickly settled into the rough.
Thomas played a delicate pitch down the slope, then missed a bogey attempt when the ball came to rest seven feet below the hole.
Before the sun came up on the second round, Winged Foot had been restored to a historically demanding U.S. Open venue, forcing the best players in the world to back up a step or three.
There were 32 players at par or better following the first round.
“I’m sure the super wanted to crank the SubAir on and leave it on all night,” said Xander Schauffele, who encountered firmer greens and trickier pins on Friday and shot a 72.
That was a topic.
Reports that Winged Foot’s director of golf courses Steve Rabideau had expressed his displeasure in a meeting with the USGA were quickly shot down by club leadership.
“We are in partnership with the USGA,” said longtime general manager Colin Burns, who also noted the SubAir system was never turned on to remove moisture from the putting surfaces.
Rabideau is providing input when the USGA makes setup decisions.
The rough has not been mowed since the championship got under way. The greens were cut and rolled Friday, but were not watered.
And the wind blew.
Only six players were under par following the second round and the average score was nearly three strokes higher at 75.26.
Patrick Reed assumed the lead, making five birdies and five bogeys during an even-par round of 70 that left the former Masters champion at 4-under 136.
There were some crafty up-and-downs along the way, too.
“Any time you play in the U.S. Open you know that you’re going to have one of those days where things just aren’t quite going your way. … and I felt like today was that day,” he said. “I felt like I left a decent amount of shots out there, felt like I was a little loose with some shots off the tee and also some irons, and to be able to feel like that and come out and shoot an even-par round, it’s definitely a positive and makes you feel good going into the weekend.”
Reed was not surprised by Winged Foot’s about face, noting the USGA was just easing the field into the championship by making the greens receptive in the opening round.
He missed nine fairways and nine greens.
“I think, if anything, (this kind of test suits me) just because I love the grind,” Reed added. “I love getting in there. I love when it’s hard, when you have to be creative on all different golf shots.”
Nobody was happier with the conditions than Byrson DeChambeau, who climbed the leaderboard with a damn-the-torpedoes approach. He’s one shot off the lead with a 3-under total of 137.
Rafa Cabrera Bello (70), Harris English (70) and Thomas (73) are tied for third at 2-under and Jason Kokrak (71) is sixth at 1-under.
“I want it to play as hard as possible,” said DeChambeau, who eagled his final hole to shoot a 2-under 68 on Friday. “I feel like there’s so many holes out here that I can take advantage of that some people can’t. Now, that doesn’t mean that I’m going to win or anything. You’ve still got to execute. You’ve still got to hit the driver straight. If I’m hitting the driver far but all over the place, you can’t make birdies from the rough.”
There are 21 players within six shots of the lead. That’s currently a span of just two or three bad swings or unfortunate lies.
“Every single person in this tournament is going to go through a stretch where they get a bad run, especially here,” Thomas said. “I wasn’t driving it well and then had a couple putts that easily could have gone in that kind of just stayed out, but I just stayed positive and kept fighting because I know that a 3-over is better than a 4-over, and today easily could have been a 6- or 7-over. I’m proud of myself for how I hung in.
“This is a better position than I’ve been in at the U.S. Open before. This isn’t exactly a place where you go out and try to shoot 6- or 7-under to catch up. Just have to stay patient and play my own game. I’m not going to worry about what everyone else is doing because you could shoot 80 just as easily as you could shoot 68.”
The field was giving back a full stroke at the first two holes alone on Friday.
“It’s a U.S. Open,” Schauffele said. “We get it once a year where it’s a gouge-fest, and if it gets harder, so be it.”
The cut was 146.
Among the notables heading for home are PGA champion Collin Morikawa (7-over), defending U.S. Open champion Gary Woodland (8-over), Justin Rose (10-over), Tiger Woods (10-over), Phil Mickelson (13-over) and Jordan Spieth (14-over).
Woods missed the cut here for the second straight time — the other being in 2006, shortly after his father, Earl, passed away.