Graeme McDowell, the 2010 Champion, and Nicolas Colsaerts lead the European Tour's challenge heading into the weekend of the 112th US Open Championship with their sights trained on the formidable figures of Tiger Woods, Jim Furyk and David Toms.
Woods, bidding for a fourth US Open title and 15th Major, 2003 champion Furyk, and 2001 US PGA Champion Toms were the only players to finish the first 36 holes in the red as the Olympic Club once again tested the world’s best players to the limit.
Indeed, the top two players in the World Rankings were on their way home, with defending champion Rory McIlroy and World Number One Luke Donald both missing the cut after carding rounds of 72 and 73 respectively.
McDowell was on course to be among the select group under par at the halfway stage, before dropping three shots in his last four holes; but he remained pleased with his position just two behind the leaders at one over par alongside Colsaerts and Americans John Peterson and first round front-runner Michael Thompson.
The Northern Irishman, winner of this title in 2010 at Pebble Beach further down the Pacific Coast, birdied the 15th and 16th – his seventh and eighth holes of the day – to go into second place on his own at two under par.
However, he then bogeyed the fifth, sixth and eighth holes, and slipped back to one over par and into a tie for fourth place after signing for a round of 72.
“It’s just a brutal test of golf,” said McDowell.
“I’m disappointed to bogey three of the last four today. I hit a decent shot into five and missed it on the short side. On six, I hit a great shot, but missed the putt; then on eight, I got a shooter off the back and had a tough up and down.
“But that’s what this golf course can do to you in a heartbeat; and, to be honest with you, if you had offered me one over par starting on the first tee yesterday, having seen what I saw in the morning, I would have probably snapped your arm off for it.
“So I’m very happy to be where I am. I think I’ve played some really nice golf over the last two days, and enough birdies to offset some mistakes – which I think is key.”
Colsaerts, who defeated McDowell in the final of the Volvo World Match Play Championship last month, got off of to the worst possible start yesterday with two double bogeys in the first three holes of his opening round, but fought his way back to just one over after 36.
Birdies on the ninth – his opening hole – 16th and 18th, mixed with bogeys on the 13th and sixth holes, helped him return one of only six sub-par rounds of the day.
“When you play like this on a course like this in an event like this, you’ve got to be pretty happy,” he said.
Charl Schwartzel, the 2011 Masters Champion who was on the verge of pulling out after tearing a stomach muscle on Wednesday, battled for a level par 70 to lie at three over par alongside Frenchman Raphaël Jacquelin, who put in a second solid round with a one over par 71.
Sergio Garcia similarly carded a 71 and lies in the group one further back alongside Race to Dubai leader Justin Rose and Ernie Els – another of the six players to break 70 – at four over. Padraig Harrington joined that group with a level par 70 as he looks to add to his three Major titles this weekend.
Lee Westwood shot 72 to be five over, the same as Ian Poulter (75), Martin Kaymer (71) and Matteo Manassero, who impressed with a one under par 69, Branden Grace (74), fellow US Open rookie Marc Warren (72), Robert Karlsson (75) and Retief Goosen (70).
Furyk, playing with McDowell, shot a fine 69, and the wily competitor will be tough to beat over such a tough test, while Toms added a level par 70 to his opening 69.
Woods made a five foot birdie at the short third, but he could not get up and down from sand at the fifth and had a terrible break at the next.
The 14-Major Champion liked the look of his approach, but it finished in thick rough just above a bunker and it was no wonder he dropped another shot from there. He then three putted the seventh for a third successive bogey before hitting back with a 30-foot birdie putt on the tenth and then a two on the 13th after a terrific tee shot.
“That was not easy,” said Woods. “That golf course was some kind of quick.. It was really, really tough. I just had to stay as patient as possible and I did a really good job at that today.”
Beau Hossler, a 17 year old amateur, had the thrill of leading on his own when he made a brilliant birdie on the 520 yard par four first, holing from just seven feet. But he fell away when he bogeyed the second, double-bogeyed the fourth and dropped another two shots at the fifth and sixth. He chipped in for birdie on the seventh and another shot was spilled on his last but his 73 – and the fact he led the US Open – was extremely impressive for a player so young.