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3 Things to Know: Round 2, 121st U.S. Open

June 18, 2021 San Diego, Calif. By Dave Shedloski

Thirty-six players had to set their alarms a bit earlier Friday to complete their opening rounds in the 121st U.S. Open at Torrey Pines after that highly inconvenient 90-minute delay to the start of the championship on Thursday due to fog.

When the last putt dropped, not much had changed, at least at the top, where Louis Oosthuizen completed his final two holes with pars and posted a 4-under 67, tied with Russell Henley, who played in the morning wave and then got to put his feet up and watch the proceedings.

Eighteen players had smiles on their faces (or general relief) at the end of their rounds. That’s how many bettered par on the par-71 South Course set up at 7,645 yards. That compares to 11 players who posted sub-par scores in the 2008 championship at Torrey, none of whom went on to win because the determined Tiger Woods, who started with a 72, wouldn’t be denied his third national title. In other words, don’t read too much into those first-round results.

The second round commenced on time, at 6:45 a.m. PDT before the first was finished, and golfers were greeted with cool and breezy conditions. Winds were expected to peak with gusts up to 15 mph, so entertaining conundrums are likely to be common among the 156 players fighting to make the cut of the top 60 and ties.

Here are three things to know about Round 2.

Rally caps

Some big names and pre-championship favorites need to exhibit a bit more proficiency in the second round if they want to play four rounds. That list includes Bryson DeChambeau, the defending champion, who opened with a 73, not the worst score, but definitely hovering around the cutline and seven behind the first-round leaders. DeChambeau, a California native, definitely doesn’t want to join Gary Woodland in making it consecutive defending champs to miss the cut.

Some other prominent names are in much bigger peril. Woodland started with a 3-over 74. World No. 4 Collin Morikawa opened with a 75, as did San Diego native and reigning PGA champion Phil Mickelson. Jordan Spieth, the 2015 champion, was in a bigger hole after a 77, while 2013 winner Justin Rose shot 78 and Webb Simpson, the 2012 champ, had a 79.

The goal today is to dig deep, not dig a deeper hole and then have to head to the airport.

The great 18

The first-round scoring average was 73.743, but it could have been higher were the par-5 18th hole not such a pushover. Not that there is anything wrong with that. The home hole gave up all seven of the eagles registered in Round 1 and 56 birdies, most of any hole, naturally. It’s an exciting hole. It’s also crucial, especially to the above-mentioned players scratching and clawing.

Coming as it does at the end of the round for half the field, it represents a last gasp, a last Hail Mary, where a birdie or eagle could mean the difference between making the cut and missing it. For the other half, it’s important as a springboard to their second nine holes or it could be a crusher to the spirit should a player make par – or worse (there were 17 bogeys).

Putting contest

It’s never out of the ordinary to see players who excel at different skill disciplines populate the top of the leader board, but in the opening round at Torrey Pines, the day belonged to the putters. Well, largely.

Those at or near the top in putting occupy the leader board. In fact, nine of the top 11 in strokes gained/putting are among the top 24. Overnight clubhouse leader Russell Henley was fourth in putting. Didn’t hurt that he also was fifth in approach, but if he doesn’t roll in a few, he’s in there with Abraham Ancer, who shot 73 despite leading in approach. He actually lost 0.33 strokes on the greens.

Conversely, those who are bringing up the rear really deserve to be there. The 10 worst on the greens all are outside the cutline. All but two are outside the top 90 scorers. This is absolutely worth watching as Round 2 unfolds.

Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based writer who frequently contributes to USGA websites.