SAN FRANCISCO — Just when this U.S. Open was starting to look like child’s play, Tiger Woods led a trio of tested champions who took it back Friday.
Woods, another round closer to a serious shot at his 15th major, overcame three straight bogeys on the front nine for an even-par 70. Jim Furyk, nine years removed from his U.S. Open title outside Chicago, plodded his way around Olympic for a 1-under 69. Former PGA champion David Toms kept a steady presence in his round of 70.
They were the only three players who remained under par going into the weekend.
And they restored some sanity to the toughest test in golf after a brief, stunning moment when 17-year-old Beau Hossler found himself alone in the lead. The kid went 11 holes without making a bogey until he got lost in the thick rough and the trees on the brutal front nine of Olympic and had to settle for a 73.
That wasn’t the only surprise.
Defending champion Rory McIlroy missed the cut for the fourth time in his last five tournaments. He set a U.S. Open record last year at Congressional with a 131 through 36 holes. He was 19 shots worse at Olympic, with a 73 giving him a two-day score of 150.
“It wasn’t the way I wanted to play,” he said.
Also leaving San Francisco far earlier than anyone expected were Luke Donald, the world’s No. 1 player, Masters champion Bubba Watson and Dustin Johnson, coming off a win last week at the St. Jude Classic.
It doesn’t take much at this U.S. Open to swallow up even the best players.
Woods had to be close to his best simply to break par.
“Well, that was not easy,” Woods said. “That golf course was some kind of quick. … You had to stay as patient as possible.”
They were at 1-under 139. Everyone else in the field was over par.
Graeme McDowell, the U.S. Open champion two years ago down the coast at Pebble Beach, dropped three shots on his last four holes for a 72. Even so, he was very much in the hunt two shots behind at 141, along with recent LSU alum John Peterson (70), Nicolas Colsaerts of Belgium (69) and Michael Thompson, the first-round leader whose 75 was nine shots worse.
“It’s just tough to have fun out there,” McDowell said.
The only regret for Woods was settling for a tie.
When he regained a share of the lead with Furyk on the 13th with a 4-foot birdie putt, Woods was coming up on a series of holes that allowed players to at least think of making birdie. In a greenside bunker in two on the par-5 16th — shortened to 609 yards Friday — Woods blasted out weakly and missed a 12-foot putt. With a mid-iron in his hand in the fairway on the par-5 17th, he went over the green and down a deep slope. Despite a superb pitch to 8 feet, he missed the putt.
And with a wedge from the fairway on the 18th, he came up well short and into a bunker, having to settle for par.
Furyk rolled in a 40-foot birdie putt from off the third green in the morning, the highlight of his 69.
“Plod, I think, is a good word,” Furyk said. “You take what the course gives you and play the best you can from there.”
Woods is coming off his second win of the year two weeks ago at the Memorial, and hasn’t lost a step. It might not show it in the scores, just the leaderboard.
“A long way to go,” he said.
Woods had won eight straight times when he had at least a share of the lead going into the weekend at the majors, a streak that ended at the 2009 PGA Championship when Y.E. Yang chased him down from four shots back. Woods hasn’t seriously contended in the final hour of a major since then.
Sharing the lead with other major champions might not be a coincidence.
“Whoever wins this golf tournament is going to be a great champion, somebody that’s probably won events before, that can handle the emotions and can handle the adversity in a U.S. Open, and somebody with experience,” Toms said. “At least that’s what I think. You never know. Strange things can happen, but I would think that you would see a lot of that on the leaderboard come late Sunday.”
And a stern test waits on the weekend. Asked for a winning score, McDowell deferred to the USGA.
“They can have whatever they want,” McDowell said. “If they want 5 over to win, 10 over to win it … they can hide these pins away. I would have to imagine around level par.”
Woods, who played the difficult six-hole opening stretch at 1 under in the opening round, wasn’t so fortunate the second time around.
He brilliantly bounced his tee shot onto the green at the par-3 third to 5 feet for birdie, and the outright lead at 2 under, and he appeared to have everything under control. That didn’t last, though.
He pushed his approach into a bunker on the fifth and took bogey. He got a miserable break on the next hole when his second shot was suspended in the thick collar of the bunker, forcing him to grip his wedge on the steel shaft to play his shot, which went through the green for another bogey. And on the short par-4 seventh, which can be reached from the tee, he three-putted from 8 feet for a third straight bogey.
On the other side of the course, the cheers of disbelief were for Hossler.
The kid in braces, who didn’t even win his state high school championship, rolled in a 6-foot birdie putt on the 520-yard first hole, putting him alone in the lead at 2 under.
“Unfortunately,” he said, “I kind of lost it coming in.”
It’s wasn’t the pressure. It wasn’t the size of his audience perched along the hills. It wasn’t the sight of his name listed over three major champions.
It was The Olympic Club.
Hossler dropped a shot on the next hole, though the real trouble came when he pulled his tee shot on the fourth into the hay and made double bogey. Then, he hit into a bunker on the adjacent hole for another bogey, lost another shot on the sixth and only slowed the damage with a chip-in behind the seventh green for birdie.
He still gets to sleep in on Saturday with his late tee time, and what 17-year-old doesn’t like that?