US Open 2018

Johnson shines at Shinnecock

Dustin Johnson of the United States celebrates making a birdie on the seventh hole as Tiger Woods looks on during the second round of the 2018 US Open at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club on Friday.
Dustin Johnson of the United States celebrates making a birdie on the seventh hole as Tiger Woods looks on during the second round of the 2018 US Open at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club on Friday.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

World No. 1 takes 4-shot lead after the second round as string of big names miss the weekend

SOUTHAMPTON (New York) • Shinnecock Hills was such a stingy old course that it was hard to make a big move in the US Open.

There were no great leaps on the leaderboard, no tremendous roars, just a grim silence as the field tried to grind out pars and avoid catastrophes under the chill, unmoving cloud cover.

But Dustin Johnson took command of the course on Friday, shrugging off the worst of the conditions to take a four-shot second-round lead and the only player under par after 36 punishing holes.

The world No. 1 jumped clear with an assured three-under 67 on a day when the tournament lost considerable star wattage as Jordan Spieth (71), Rory McIlroy (70) and Tiger Woods (72) missed the cut.

Jason Day (73), Adam Scott (75), Sergio Garcia (79) and Jon Rahm (77) also fell prey to Shinnecock.

"Today was really solid in some tough conditions," Johnson said after posting a four-under 136 halfway total to head fellow Americans Charley Hoffman (69) and Scott Piercy (71).

Defending champion Brooks Koepka was asked what would be the hardest thing about trying to chase down Johnson. His answer: "This golf course."

Koepka made the closest thing to a move of anyone all day with a 66, which put him in a thick group of pursuers five strokes back that included a couple of Major champions creeping up, Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson, who both carded 70. His strategy was to just "try and sneak in a few birdies".

That means that Johnson's pursuers will need help from him. They have to hope that, at some point, he hits a bad shot and posts a big number that lets them back in it.

But Johnson has not been playing like someone who will give back strokes. Perhaps more important than his ability to cadge out rare birdies is the fact that he has been able to string together so many pars.

"I like where par is a good score on every hole no matter what club you got in your hand, what hole it is," said Johnson, who had four birdies and one bogey alongside his pars in the second round.

"I'm just trying to get it back in play and then give myself just a look at par. I feel like, if I can get a look at par and not make any doubles, you know, I'm going to make a couple (of) birdies. But limit the mistakes, especially limit the big numbers."

After strong winds sent scores soaring on Thursday, the breeze abated slightly but still blew strongly in the morning to make for a difficult test, with a light mid-morning rain making playing conditions miserable for an hour or so.

It was much easier in the afternoon, as the skies cleared, the wind all but died and the late starters charged onto the leaderboard, albeit still some distance adrift of Johnson.

If the 2016 champion hangs on for two more rounds to win his second US Open in three years, he will deserve reassessment, and maybe his performance already demands it.

Johnson has not just been a long-ball hitter or pure athletic talent here, but rather a player with superb management skills and unbothered temperament.

Shinnecock is a highly technical course, with changes of direction, side slopes and hard angles, and the conditions over the past two days have made it even more so.

To lead after 36 holes, Johnson had to think his way around it, and shape all kinds of shots in shifting wind conditions.

United States Golf Association executive director Mike Davis said before the tournament began that he hoped Shinnecock would force players to get every club in the bag dirty.

Johnson has done that: he has shown a long game and short game, walloped big drives, holed out from bunkers, and run in long putts.

Said Justin Thomas (70), one of his playing partners for the first two rounds: "He pretty much has it all covered."

WASHINGTON POST, REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 17, 2018, with the headline 'Johnson shines at Shinnecock'. Print Edition | Subscribe