SAN FRANCISCO — There were no fist pumps for Tiger Woods, just a deep breath and a slow exhale. Jim Furyk walked most of the 7,170 yards at Olympic Club with his head down. David Toms couldn’t think of a single shot he hit without his full attention Friday.
They were not the survivors of the U.S. Open. They were the leaders.
And it’s no coincidence that all of them have been tested in the majors, none more often than Woods, who survived a patch of bogeys early in his round for an even-par 70 that took him another round closer to a 15th major title.
“I know that it takes a bit out of us, but so be it,” Woods said. “Much rather be there than missing cuts or just making the cut. So it’s a wonderful place to be with a chance to win your nation’s open.”
Just when this U.S. Open was starting to look like child’s play, a trio of major champions took it back.
Furyk rolled in a 40-foot birdie putt from off the third green in the morning for a 69. Woods and Toms, who showed a steady hand with the putter for a 70, joined him in the afternoon when the conditions were fiery and emotions were frayed.
They were the only players to beat par for 36 holes at 1-under 139.
And they restored some sanity to a major that for a brief and stunning moment had been taken over by a 17-year-old who only two weeks ago didn’t even win his state high school championship. Beau Hossler went 11 holes without making a bogey, and took the outright lead on one of the toughest holes at Olympic. He got lost in the thick rough and trees on the brutal front nine, dropping five shots in eight holes for a 73 that left him four shots behind.
That wasn’t the only surprise.
Defending champion Rory McIlroy missed the cut for the fourth time in his last five tournaments. He set a U.S. Open record last year at Congressional with a 131 through 36 holes. He was 19 shots worse at Olympic, with a 73 giving him a two-day score of 150.
“It wasn’t the way I wanted to play,” he said.
Also leaving San Francisco far earlier than anyone expected were Luke Donald, the world’s No. 1 player, Masters champion Bubba Watson and Dustin Johnson, coming off a win last week at the St. Jude Classic.
It doesn’t take much at this U.S. Open to swallow up even the best players.
When the last group trudged up the hill toward the stately clubhouse at Olympic, the experience at the top of the leaderboard was impossible to ignore.
“Whoever wins this golf tournament is going to be a great champion, somebody that’s probably won events before, that can handle the emotions and can handle the adversity in a U.S. Open, and somebody with experience,” Toms said. “At least that’s what I think. You never know. Strange things can happen, but I would think that you would see a lot of that on the leaderboard come late Sunday.”
It starts with Woods, who is coming off his second win of the year at the Memorial and looks as strong as ever. Hitting shots both directions, mainly with irons off the tees, he overcame three straight bogeys on his front nine, two of those shots not far off from being easy birdie chances.
His only regret was not taking advantage of having a wedge in his hand on the last three holes, all birdie opportunities that became pars.
When he regained a share of the lead with Furyk on the 13th with a 4-foot birdie putt, Woods was coming up on a series of holes that allowed players to at least think of making birdie. In a greenside bunker in two on the par-5 16th — shortened to 609 yards Friday — Woods blasted out weakly and missed a 12-foot putt. With a mid-iron in his hand in the fairway on the par-5 17th, he went over the green and down a deep slope. Despite a superb pitch to 8 feet, he missed the putt.
And with a wedge from the fairway on the 18th, he came up well short and into a bunker, having to settle for par.
Pars aren’t bad, though.
“This tournament, you’re just plodding along,” Woods said. “This is a different tournament. You have to stay patient, stay present, and you’re just playing for a lot of pars. This is not a tournament where we have to make a bunch of birdies.”
Graeme McDowell, the U.S. Open champion two years ago down the coast at Pebble Beach, dropped three shots on his last four holes for a 72. Even so, he was very much in the hunt two shots behind at 141, along with recent LSU alum John Peterson (70), Nicolas Colsaerts of Belgium (69) and Michael Thompson, the first-round leader who followed his opening 66 with a 75.
“It’s just tough to have fun out there,” McDowell said.
Woods had won eight straight times when he had at least a share of the lead going into the weekend at the majors, a streak that ended at the 2009 PGA Championship when Y.E. Yang chased him down from four shots back. Woods hasn’t seriously contended in the final hour of a major since then.
And a stern test waits on the weekend. Asked for a winning score, McDowell deferred to the USGA.
“They can have whatever they want,” McDowell said. “If they want 5 over to win, 10 over to win it … they can hide these pins away. I would have to imagine around level par.”
Woods, who played the difficult six-hole opening stretch at 1 under in the opening round, wasn’t so fortunate the second time around.
He brilliantly bounced his tee shot onto the green at the par-3 third to 5 feet for birdie, and the outright lead at 2 under, and he appeared to have everything under control. That didn’t last, though.
He pushed his approach into a bunker on the fifth and took bogey. He got a miserable break on the next hole when his second shot was suspended in the thick collar of the bunker, forcing him to grip his wedge on the steel shaft to play his shot, which went through the green for another bogey. And on the short par-4 seventh, which can be reached from the tee, he three-putted from 8 feet for a third straight bogey.
On the other side of the course, the cheers of disbelief were for Hossler.
The kid rolled in a 6-foot birdie putt on the 520-yard first hole, putting him alone in the lead at 2 under.
“Unfortunately,” he said, “I kind of lost it coming in.”
It’s wasn’t the pressure. It wasn’t the size of his audience perched along the hills. It wasn’t the sight of his name listed over three major champions.
It was The Olympic Club.
Hossler dropped a shot on the next hole, though the real trouble came when he pulled his tee shot on the fourth into the hay and made double bogey. Then, he hit into a bunker on the adjacent hole for another bogey, lost another shot on the sixth and only slowed the damage with a chip-in behind the seventh green for birdie.
He still gets to sleep in on Saturday with his late tee time, and what 17-year-old doesn’t like that?