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U.S. Open: Dustin Johnson handles changing elements, takes four-shot lead

Dustin Johnson tees off on 11 during the

Dustin Johnson tees off on 11 during the second round of the U.S. Open at the Shinnecock Hills Golf Club in Southampton on Friday. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

Mother Nature threw her full repertoire at World No. 1 Dustin Johnson in the second round of the U.S. Open Friday at Shinnecock Hills. She started him out with overcast skies and breezy conditions that made it feel like a British Open, then mixed in a soaking drizzle and cooler temperatures that caused shots to travel shorter distances. Finally, she made the wind lie down and broke out sunny skies and warmer temperatures that made him peel off his sweater.

Johnson handled everything with aplomb, firing a 3-under- par 67 that put him at 4-under 136 and extended his lead to four shots at the halfway mark. The way Johnson is playing, no one will be surprised if this turns into a runaway.

Charley Hoffman and Scott Piercy are tied for second at even- par 140 followed by a stellar five-man contingent at 1-over 141 that is comprised of defending U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka, Tommy Fleetwood, Ian Poulter, Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson. Fleetwood and Koepka tied for low round of the tournament with a pair of 4-under 66s. Poulter and Rose reached red numbers but backed up at the end as Poulter finished triple bogey-bogey and Rose finished bogey-bogey.

Other name players are just finished as Jordan Spieth (9 over), Tiger Woods (10 over) and Rory McIlroy (10 over) were among those missing the cut. Phil Mickelson made it after a 1-under 69 that put him at 6 over, two shots clear of the cut line.

Reviewing his battle with the elements, Johnson said, “Hit some really good shots early in the round, and then, a little bit of rain came in and the ball wasn’t going very far. We played six or seven holes in it, and it was playing really difficult. I kind of hung in there and made some good saves. Then, it cleared up for the last five or six holes, and it was really nice.”

When the wind died down, and the sun came out on No. 4, Johnson’s 13th hole, he drained a 15-foot birdie putt to get back to 2-under for the round. The key was Johnson’s ability to adjust to the speed of the sloping greens. On the par-3 seventh, Johnson’s 45-foot birdie putt straight downhill was judged perfectly and just trickled into the hole.

“That was a good one,” Johnson said. “I knew about halfway there it was on a really good line if it would just get to the hole. It dropped right in the front door . . . I feel like I’ve got good feel on the greens right now.”

Johnson hit 12 of 14 fairways and required only 27 putts. If he can maintain that degree of success, he’s going to be tough to catch. Among his challengers, Koepka made the strongest move with birdies on six of his final 11 holes to go from 7-over to 1-over.

“Obviously, you don’t want to be [five] back, but it’s a U.S. Open and disaster’s always around the corner,” Koepka said. “I feel like I’ve got some momentum on my side, finishing with six birdies. You know, there’s nobody more confident here than me.”

In similar fashion, Rose shook off his bogey-bogey finish, faulting himself for going “flag-hunting” near the end and becoming distracted by the crowd movement as fans departed.

“I’m in a great spot going into the weekend,” Rose said. “You just saw what happened to Ian Poulter. That could happen to D.J. That’s the nature of the U.S. Open. So, hanging around is often the best form of attack.”

Poulter was playing brilliantly, having birdied three of four holes to get within a stroke of Johnson going to the par-4 8th, which was his 17th hole. But he bladed a bunker shot 30 yards over the green, chunked two more wedges out of the rough and two-putted for triple-bogey 7.

“I was trying to hit the perfect bunker shot, trying to nip it clean,” Poulter said. “It just looks really stupid. Maybe it makes a few people happy out there that we mess up just as good as everyone else. We’re human, right? The best outcome for me is to put it out of my mind, to look upon the position I’m in for this weekend. I’m T-4.”

Johnson might have a four-shot lead, but he’s not immune to the disasters that await at Shinnecock Hills. As Poulter said, “There’s a disaster on every single hole. I saw a stat that every hole was double-bogeyed. Stats don’t lie. U.S. Open golf, and especially this course, is extremely tricky. So, I’m in the hunt. I’m happy.”

On to the chase.

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