U.S. Open: Playing with numbers after 36 holes

Amateur Patrick Cantlay during a practice round for the U.S. Open Championship golf tournament Thursday, June 14, 2012, at The Olympic Club in San Francisco.

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SAN FRANCISCO – We are halfway through the second major championship of the year and while there’s not much we can say definitively, there is this: 31 players have made the cut in the Masters and U.S. Open.

That one of them is amateur Patrick Cantlay is intriguing. Another that should be noted is Jonathan Byrd, for it reverses the misery of 2011 when he missed the cut in each of the four majors.

Of course, with 312 rounds of golf over the course of approximately 27 hours having been played, it takes a little while to catch your breath and reflect upon what has been done. So we offer a little of that, a dash of that from Rounds 1 and 2 of the 112th U.S. Open.

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FEELS FAMILIAR: It was 14 years ago when the U.S. Open last visited The Olympic Club and while there are plenty of differences, don’t tell that to Matt Kuchar. Through 36 holes that year, Kuchar – then an amateur – was tied for 10th, four shots back. This time around, he’s tied for ninth, four shots back.

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NEVER HAD A CHANCE AT THE SKINS POOL: Bad enough that they had to exit on Friday, but five players left without having made even one birdie: Bob Estes, Cole Howard, Brian Rowell, Scott Smith and Brice Garnett.

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NO MYSTERY WHY: Certainly, it’s not difficult to understand Rowell’s early departure. The 39-year-old mini-tour veteran out of Jackson, Miss., hit just nine greens in two days. Howard, a mini-tour player out of Fort Worth, Texas, found the fairway just three times in two days and required a whopping 70 putts.

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SCORING ODDITY, PART I: Through 36 holes, there have been more double-bogeys or worse (24) than birdies (23) at the par-5 16th, which played 660 yards Thursday and 609 yards Friday.

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SCORING ODDITY, PART II: Most weeks, you give these world-class players back-to-back par 5s, like they have here with 16 and 17, and they’re licking their chops. Yet in two trips around The Olympic Club, only eight of the 156 players recorded consecutive birdies there. Two did it Thursday (Matthew Baldwin, Alberto Sanchez), six did it Friday (Rickie Fowler, Zach Johnson, Alistair Presnell, Sang-Moon Bae, Mikko Ilonen, and Thomas Bjorn).

It came at crunch time for Fowler, for those birdies enabled him to make the cut on the number.

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SOME MORE FROM THOSE PAR 5s: Steve Stricker over two days at 16 and 17 has made 3, 4, 5, and 6. South African George Coetzee could probably have used a bit more practice at 16, because he doubled it each day. And if you had told Olin Browne that he’d play those holes in 1 over in Round 1, he might not have cringed. Turn out he did, only he made an 8 at 16, then a 3 at 17.

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SHORT GRASS? WHO NEEDS THE SHORT GRASS? Having backed up an opening 71 with a 74, South African Branden Grace is into the weekend play at his first U.S. Open. Maybe not so remarkable, given that he’s a three-time winner on the European PGA Tour this year, but Grace did it the hard way Friday, because he failed to hit any of the 14 fairways.

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LUCKY SEVEN? NOT TO HIM: Brooks Koepka, the amateur from Florida State, is proof positive that short can be difficult. He made a pair of double-bogeys at The Olympic Club’s 288-yard, par-4 7th hole.

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TOUGHEST TASKS: Thus far this week at The Olympic Club, it has been to hit the fairway at the 7th (only 20.2 percent of the players have done so) and reach the green in regulation at the 489-yard, par-4 6th (just 17.3 percent).

The explanation at the seventh is easy; being just 288 yards, the hole invites you to try and drive the green, with little concern if you land in the greenside bunkers.

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WHO SAYS THE BALL GOES TOO FAR? For two days, Paul Claxton ranked last in driving distance, just 218.3 yards. You think that’s short? How about Sergio Garcia in Round 1 when he was recorded with a 100-yard drive or Charles Howell, who hit one 61? Or Justin Hicks in Round 2, measured at 87 yards?

Funny stuff, of course, but the answer is simple: Those trees come into play and in a hurry if you mishit your tee shots at the par-4 12th. And using the 489-yard, par-4 6th is curious, since it’s the only hole with a fairway bunker and the strategy is to lay back, even if it means a 230-yard approach.

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YOU DON’T THINK THESE GUYS CAN TIGHTEN THE SCREWS? If you accept the premise that fields are deeper than ever and there are more better players than in past years, you’d also have to study the argument that USGA officials are certainly able to maintain control of how this championship unfolds – barring weather woes like a year ago at Congressional.

Need evidence? Look at how the last three national championships at The Olympic Club have looked at the 36-hole mark:

In 1987: Leader at 3 under, with 11 players under par

1998: Leader at 3 under, with 6 players under par

2012: Leader at 1 under, with three players under par

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