Paul Casey rode a roller-coaster to the second-round clubhouse lead at the U.S. Open on Friday, surviving a hair-raising trip that included a gut-wrenching triple-bogey and a thrilling run of five straight birdies at the Erin Hills course in Wisconsin.
Prior to missing cuts at The Memorial and U.S. Open, Johnson had played in 21 events and finished outside the top 13 just four times.
Eight of the top 12 in the world will not be around for the weekend at this most unusual U.S. Open, where the top 60 and ties advanced to the final two rounds. He's twice been sidelined this year due to a rib injury, and had played just the Players Championship since the Masters.
"I wasn't thinking too much about 8 under", he said through an interpreter.
McIlroy meanwhile - who earlier in the week had advised players unable to hit the fairways to "pack their bags" - was left at five over par after a second-round 71.
Discussing his woes at the long 14th, Casey added: "It was all my own fault, but a good display of what can happen if you get out of position on this golf course, which is what I did". "Pitchers have good days and bad days and I took an L today".
Defending champion Dustin Johnson probably didn't feel so badly by the end of a most peculiar day.
Fowler started brightly and moved from his starting seven under to nine under at one stage of his second round, while fellow Ryder Cup star Koepka also managed to get to nine under par.
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South Korea's Kim Si-woo was one behind Fowler on nine under after also shooting 68, while three players - Patrick Reed, Russell Henley and Charley Hoffman were on eight under. He kept it in the short grass, the secret to Erin Hills that wouldn't appear to be that hard with some of the widest fairways for this major. Fowler started on No. 1 made the turn at 2 under after a pair of birdies. His seven-under-par tied the record to par for the first round of a US Open held by Jack Nicklaus and Tom Weiskopf, who each shot seven-under 63 at Baltusrol in 1980. "I'm glad I went through it and I'm glad I'm here". Fowler is at No. 9 in the world ranking.
The 23-year-old from San Diego had been having an excellent debut at the Open. And then he came up short of the 17th green and dropped one more shot that sent him home early to spend time with his newborn son.
For most others, like Henrik Stenson, it was being careless off the tee and facing the rigorous test of recovering.
"I'm definitely disappointed I'm not playing the weekend, but there is a lot I can take out of it".
He rolled in an 18-foot birdie putt on No. 5 from the edge of the green that broke so severely that he stood with his toes facing the hole and rapped the ball toward his left foot. "The scoring was so good this morning".
"I showed up for the last six holes at least", joked McIlroy, who was three over par after 12 holes before carding birdies on the fourth, fifth, seventh and ninth. "I was happy it stayed benign for us and I capitalized on it".
Torrential rain that doused the 7,818-yard layout at Erin Hills overnight presented the field with a feast of birdie chances, transforming the leaderboard into a sea of red as dusk fell.