SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – After Justin Rose signed his scorecard on Friday, he took a few moments to have a look around the memorabilia in America’s first golf course clubhouse. The 2013 U.S. Open champion took note in particular of previous scores. No one broke 70 in the final round at Shinnecock Hills in 2004. Sunday seemed to get tougher for everybody, he noted.
“The four shots mean nothing at this point,” said Rose of Dustin Johnson’s lead on the field at the 118th U.S. Open. Rose, who shot even-par 70 with two bogeys up the last, sits five strokes back of Johnson and likes his position.
Who can catch the undaunted World No. 1?
Rose pointed to the late-round disaster of Ian Poulter, who bladed a bunker shot, flubbed a chip off a bare lie into the thick stuff and made triple-bogey seven on his penultimate hole, as proof of how quickly a lead can go poof.
Poulter’s triple-bogey/bogey finish dropped him from one back of Johnson in solo second to a tie for fourth.
“That could happen to D.J,” said Rose. “I’m not saying it’s going to, but it could. That’s the nature of the U.S. Open … hang around is often the best form of attack.”
Henrik Stenson, the steely Swede who took part in one of the great Sunday showdowns in major history at Royal Troon, felt like he battled well early at Shinnecock, though he has yet to show his best from tee to green. Stenson is one of five players at 1 over, joined by a trio of Englishmen in Rose, Poulter, Tommy Fleetwood and 2017 U.S. Open champ Brooks Koepka. Scott Piercy and Charley Hoffman — both looking for their first major — sit at even par.
“He’s always catchable,” said Stenson said of the leader.
Poulter admits that he hated the U.S. Open for 14 years. A 180-degree turn in attitude, however, puts him in the mix of contenders. Despite the ugly finish, Poulter has nothing but kind words for the USGA, praising this year’s setup.
Missing the last couple of championships helped change his perspective. As much as Poulter disliked the U.S. Open, the view from the sofa wasn’t any better.
Nothing about Johnson’s play this week suggests there’s a chink in the armor. His Round 2 67 included only one dropped shot. In a week where most are seeing double, Johnson hasn’t made worse than bogey. He’s playing the percentages and driving the ball beautifully.
“Around here, it seems like, for me, when I do get out of position, I’m just trying to do everything I can to get it back into position, not try to push it, and just give myself a decent look at four,” Johnson said. “Whether that’s a 5-footer or a 25-footer, just something on the green where I can have a look at par.”
Perhaps nobody in the field knows Johnson better than Koepka, who shares the same instructor, trainer, power game and even-keel demeanor.
Asked what will make Johnson difficult to catch, Koepka didn’t hesitate: “This golf course. There’s not many birdies. Like I said, there’s a disaster around every corner. I mean, all it takes is one shot in the fescue, and you could be in there for a while.”