For a championship that usually tries to bore everyone into submission, as Padraig Harrington articulated earlier in the week, the 103rd US Open was in danger of becoming interesting. First Tom Watson, then Vijay Singh, while Tiger Woods embarked on the weekend at Olympia Fields with the ominous words: "I'm right where I need to be".
Watson, 53, 21 years after his victory in his national championship at Pebble Beach, enjoyed a special Thursday with his caddie Bruce Edwards, who is suffering from the degenerative disease ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis). By the time everyone had worked out on Friday that Olympia Fields was there for the taking, not language usually associated with a US Open, Watson had slipped a little down the leaderboard as a flood of low scores came in.
Singh led the way in the manner he prefers - with his golf. His second round of 63 was only the fourth in the US Open, following Johnny Miller, Jack Nicklaus and Tom Weiskopf, and the 21st in a major championship, a list in which Singh appears twice.
But there was no escaping that the 40-year-old Fijian is a controversial figure following his comments about Annika Sorenstam playing in the Colonial tournament last month. Singh was reported as saying he hoped the Swede missed the cut, and that had he been drawn with her he would have withdrawn.
Having won the Byron Nelson Championship amid the furore on the eve of the Colonial, he pulled out of the tournament anyway. Singh attempted to clarify his remarks, but it has been deemed by much of the media here an apology for an apology. As he came up to the 14th green on Friday, having hit an eight-iron to four feet, one spectator suggested that Annika could have done better.
The matter might have rested there - no obscenities were involved - but for Singh's caddie, the recently re-engaged Dave Renwick, making a response to which the man suggested he say it a bit nearer. The spectator was escorted out by police. "I didn't know there was anything," Singh said. "I hit a good tee shot, an eight-iron, made the putt and went to the next hole."
Asked about waving his club, which appeared to be in the direction of the heckler, Singh said: "I was waving to my caddie." Singh added: "I focus on what I do, and that's playing the golf course and golf tournaments. I don't read too many newspapers. I just don't let things bother me. I focus on what I'm doing and let everything else take care of itself."
The 1998 US PGA and 2000 Masters champion might easily have become the first player to score a 62 in a major. Though he had seven birdies and an eagle he had two early bogeys, missed one tiny putt and had a good chance at the 16th and an even better one at the 17th. But, he also chipped in for the eagle at the first and holed some long putts, too.
Singh and Jim Furyk shared the lead on seven under and set a new record for the lowest 36-hole aggregate at the US Open of 133. The second- round average of 71.9 was the lowest ever, having much to do the lack of wind, rough that was not as penal as the United States Golf Association and greens that remained soft under overcast skies.
Woods, tied for fifth place at four under at the halfway stage, set out on Thursday morning in cautious mood. Yet he missed too many fairways by trying to guide his tee shots, and he was more relaxed and aggressive on Friday afternoon. This combination meant he was playing from the short grass far more often, and a 66 was the result.
Alongside Tiger, who needs to retain his crown here to maintain at least one Major trophy in his collection, was an intriguing assortment of challengers. Nick Price is 46 and won the last of his three Majors nine years ago, Eduardo Romero is nearing his 49th birthday, Justin Leonard is a former Open champion and Fredrik Jacobson, the Portuguese Open winner, is a skilful young Swede. Watson was only a stroke behind.
"The set-up for this tournament has been fairer and not as severe as in the past," said Woods. "That's why all these guys are up on the leaderboard. A lot of it is because the course is soft. If it was baked out you wouldn't be seeing those scores. But with the weekend coming up it is only going to get tougher."
Darren Clarke, once more attempting not to become frustrated with his putting, was at one under par, as was Ernie Els, who had to use all his recovery skills to stay under par. Harrington was at one over, alongside Justin Rose, whose debut in the championship may not have been spectacular but showed much of the 22-year-old's fighting qualities.
He came back from three over for the front nine on Thursday to record a 70, and on Friday he made 17 pars and only dropped a stroke at the par-five sixth. He has been working on his patience with the sports psychologist Jos Vantisphout, and it may be paying off. By this evening Rose will have played in all four Majors for the first time, a reminder that he is gaining vital experience all the time.
Colin Montgomerie's plunge from three under on Thursday continued, although he made his first cut for three weeks at three over. He followed a bogey six at the first with another dropped shot.Reuse content