Every shot required full attention. Every hole was a test. Every par was valued.
Patrick Reed embraced every aspect of it Friday when the U.S. Open lived up to its reputation as the toughest test in golf, and so did Winged Foot.
“I love the grind,” Reed said, barely unable to contain a grin.
From the bunker, he twice saved par. From ankle-deep rough behind the green to back pins, he walked off with two more pars. Throw in five birdies to offset the inevitable mistakes, and Reed had an even-par 70 that gave him a one-shot lead going into a U.S. Open that feels as though it's just getting started.
“It’s almost like they set it up to ease our way into it, and then showed us what it’s supposed to really be like,” Reed said.
So does Bryson DeChambeau, the former U.S. Amateur champion and current muscleman who powered and putted his way to a 68, the lowest score on a day Winged Foot played to an average score of 75.25.
After an opening round in which 21 players broke par, Winged Foot allowed only three players under par. Nine others shot even. Everyone else was hanging on for dear life.
Reed was at 4-under 136, and only five other players remained in red numbers. DeChambeau is the only player to be under par in both rounds, the easier one and the brutal one.
“When I play well in these conditions, it’s a lot more enjoyable,” he said. “If I had to look back on it, I would say that this today is a more enjoyable test after I’m done because it shows who executed the shots the best, for sure.”
This was the Winged Foot everyone has heard about. This is the U.S. Open everyone expected.
Rafa Cabrera-Bello of Spain and Harris English each had a 70 and were at 2-under 138.
They were joined by Justin Thomas, who opened with a 65 — the lowest ever at Winged Foot for a U.S. Open — and lost all those shots to par after 10 holes. Thomas then delivered a 5-wood from 228 yards into the wind on the par-3 third hole and made a slick, 15-foot, double-breaking birdie putt to steady himself. He scratched out a 73 and is right in it.
Jason Kokrak (71) was the only other player under par at 1-under 139.
“This isn’t exactly a place where you go out and try to shoot 6 or 7 under to catch up,” Thomas said. “I’m not going to worry about what everyone else is doing because you could shoot 80 just as easily as you could shoot 68. I just need to stay focused, and most importantly, go home and get some rest. Because I’m pretty tired.”
There's still 36 holes to go, and no indication that Winged Foot is going to get any easier.
“The rough is still really thick. I don't think they're planning on cutting it,” Matthew Wolff said after salvaging a 74 that left him four shots behind. “The greens are only going to get firmer, and the scores are only going to get higher."
Tiger Woods is among those who won't be around to experience it. He had a pair of double bogeys at the end of the back nine, and two birdies over his last three holes gave him a 77. He missed the cut by four shots, the eighth time in his last 15 majors he won't be around for the weekend.
“It feels like the way the golf course is changing, is turning, that anybody who makes the cut has the opportunity to win this championship,” Woods said. “I didn’t get myself that opportunity.”
Neither did Phil Mickelson, who had his highest 36-hole score in 29 appearances in the one major he hasn't won. Ditto for Jordan Spieth, whose 81 was his highest score in a major. PGA champion Collin Morikawa missed an 8-foot birdie putt on the final hole that cost him a chance to keep playing.
Reed turned in a workman-like performance, making birdies when he had the chance, saving par when needed. This is the kind of golf he loves. It’s a grind. And it’s about feel. He was most pleased with his birdie on No. 1 after he made the turn, going with a chip 8-iron from 147 yards into the wind and riding the slope at the back of the green to tap-in range.
“I love when it’s hard, when you have to be creative on all different golf shots,” he said.
There were plenty of great rounds on such a demanding course, many of which fell apart at the end. Louis Oosthuizen was 3 under in the morning when he finished bogey-bogey-double bogey for a 74. Xander Schauffele was 3 under until he bogeyed three of his last five holes.
“The wind can make a par-3 course difficult, so put that on a U.S. Open setup, it’s going to be even more so,” Schauffele said. “It'll be a fun afternoon to watch on TV.”
Rory McIlroy's problems started early. He was 5 over through seven holes, including a birdie at the start, and shot 76 to fall seven shots behind. Dustin Johnson was bogey-free through 16 holes until a pair of bad tee shots led to bogey. He had a 70 and was in the group at 3-over 143.
All of them still feel as though the U.S. Open is in sight. And they know the hard work that awaits.
“It’s all you want out there. Just got to grind, got to battle,” English said, who finished his round with 11 straight pars. “You're going to have to make some hard pars out there. You’re going to hit it in the rough some, you’re going to miss some greens, and just got to figure it out.”