ERIN, Wis. – Jason Day said he enjoyed the walk at Erin Hills the last two days. Rory McIlroy is a huge fan of the golf course. Dustin Johnson entered as the defending champion.
Unfortunately, none of the three will be around this weekend for the 117th U.S. Open.
The players were in a big hole to start the second round on Friday – Johnson opened in 75, McIlroy struggled to a first-round 78, and Day posted 79 – and there would be no miracle comebacks. Johnson came in with 73, but that was not nearly enough, as he finished at 4-over 148 when 145 or better was needed to advance. Day struggled for a second consecutive day, shooting 75 to finish 36 holes at 10-over 154; McIlroy showed some late signs of life in his game, making birdies on four of his last six holes to shoot 1-under 71. But at 5-over 149, he’ll have the weekend off, too.
Day and McIlroy were left feeling pretty empty, as each had arrived to Wisconsin almost a week ago with high expectations.
“It’s been the best preparation going into a major, I felt like, in my career,” Day said. “I got off to a great start yesterday – I birdied the first hole. Yeah, I was in the hay too much over the last couple of days.”
Johnson, who captured last year’s U.S. Open at Oakmont, birdied his first two holes on Friday but missed a 3-footer at the fourth hole and again struggled with the putter, shooting 73 to finish at 4-over 148. He had no explanation or theory on why the top three players in the world would not be around for the weekend – the first time since the Official World Golf Ranking debuted in 1986 that the top three in the world missed the cut at a major.
“If you look at the golf course and you even talk to me, Jason or Rory, this course sets up perfect for us,” Johnson said. “But as we all know, this game’s all about putting. So it’s pretty simple, I just didn’t get it in the hole fast enough.”
While McIlroy and Day will return to competition next week at Travelers, Johnson, who welcomed a second son to the family earlier this week, will be taking a month off. He’ll return at next month’s British Open at Royal Birkdale.
Day, the 2015 PGA champion, pointed to a couple of shortfalls in his game. His errant driving, for one; two triple bogeys he encountered on Thursday, the first time that has happened as a pro; and failing to scramble well when he missed greens.
“It’s pretty frustrating … I did the work, looked at the golf course, made sure that I could actually play and visualize the golf course,” he said. “I felt the most calm I have in a major in a long time this week. And unfortunately, this didn’t pan out.”
McIlroy entered the U.S. Open having not competed since last month’s Players. A recurring rib injury limited his practice time and kept him from starts at the BMW Championship and Memorial. His game showed some rust at Erin Hills, especially off the tee on Thursday, when the last time he hit a fairway was on the 10th hole. He stumbled to a 6-over 42 over his final nine on Day 1.
He had a chat with swing coach Michael Bannon on Thursday night, and Bannon had observed that McIlroy’s transition down from the top was simply too quick. He smoothed that out on Friday, and had better results.
“I started to let it go a little bit on the back nine today,” he said. “And I showed what I can do. I birdied four of the last six – I probably could have birdied all of the last six. It didn’t matter at that point, because I was so far from the cut line. But at least I know that it’s in there. It’s just a matter of getting it out of me and getting myself in the right frame of mind.”
McIlroy said he has more work to do with the new putter he put in his bag (TaylorMade Spider) in order to raise his comfort level.
“I didn’t think it was the putter, it was the guy on the end of it,” said McIlroy, who had 62 putts over two rounds. “You play 54 holes around here before the tournament, I felt really really comfortable. I drove the ball well, my irons were good. Everything was in good shape. But you never really know until you put a card in your hand and you’re under the gun a little bit. And some of the weaknesses and flaws that are in my game at the minute showed up over the last couple of days.”
McIlroy has a busy stretch ahead. He’ll play Travelers, then head overseas to play the Irish Open, Scottish Open and British Open. He just won’t play on the weekend at the U.S. Open. A year ago, he missed the cut by two shots at Oakmont. The 2011 U.S. Open champion joked that this championship has become his “annual missed cut.”
Day, who also is playing Travelers next week, gathered his wife, Ellie, and son, Dash, and made plans to head home to Ohio the soonest that they could. He never expected to be making those plans on a Friday. This week marked his seventh U.S. Open; he’d never missed a cut, and counts five top-10 finishes. This week, he didn’t have it.
“Obviously, I’m not here on the weekend, so it’s unfortunate,” Day said. “But at least I’ll get to sit in the air con (air conditioning) and watch the guys tear it up on the weekend.”