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The five biggest things to watch for in what could be a wild weekend at the US Open

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BROOKLINE, Mass. — In the midst of a delicate moment in golf, Brooks Koepka said earlier this week that he wanted the focus to be on the US Open. After two rounds, with Phil Mickelson now out having missed the cut, it’s safe to say the focus has returned to golf thanks to some big names and unique stories.

So let’s indulge Koepka.

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Here are five things to keep in mind before the weekend at The Country Club:

loaded at the top

For a moment on Friday, the best players in the game were absent from the top of the leaderboard. But when the wind died down in the afternoon, four players ranked in the top 10 in the world made moves.

After saving a double bogey with a wonderful 25-foot putt on the third hole, Rory McIlroy enters Saturday one shot off the lead. Between the frustration and passion he’s shown on some holes this week, it’s clear that McIlroy doesn’t just want to end his eight-year major drought, he believes he can do it. And after scoring a big win at the RBC Canadian Open last week, played against debuting LIV Golf London, McIlroy’s game appears to be poised at the perfect time for him and the sport.

Meanwhile, Collin Morikawa is trying to win his third Grand Slam and first US Open after posting a tournament-best Friday 66 to jump to the top of the leaderboard. Earlier this week, Morikawa said his game wasn’t at its best because he couldn’t do a fade. If that’s the case, he doesn’t seem to be hurting him. Jon Rahm, the defending US Open champion who played alongside Morikawa on Friday, almost equaled him. The Spaniard’s 67, helped by an eagle at 14, places him just one shot behind.

“I think it’s a testament to the health and state of this game,” Rahm said of the leaderboard after his round, which highlights players who have remained committed to the PGA Tour. “It’s pretty amazing to see Rory back to back, it’s not like he’s gone anywhere. Obviously Scottie doing what he’s been doing all year, Collin doing what he always does, me doing what I always try to do, like good. It’s fun for all of us because we all want to compete against the best and beat the best.”

When asked about the charged standings, McIlroy put it simply: “That’s why we play.”

Scheffler in the shadows

Before anyone could fully realize it, the World No. 1 was suddenly tied for the clubhouse lead on Friday. Scottie Scheffler started the day even, went down to 2 strokes from the start, then turned it around in the blink of an eye and is now only 2 strokes away. Two birdies and an eagle in the hole on the back nine put him in prime position heading into the weekend, even if most of the recent conversation about the sport hasn’t involved him.

As Scheffler himself will tell you, he likes the fact that while he’s the best player in the world, he’s not the talk of the tour in the same way that McIlroy and PGA champion Justin Thomas have been on the tour. last weeks.

“I feel like I’m a low profile person,” said Scheffler, who won the Masters in April. “I’ve been No. 1 in the world for a while now, and it doesn’t really feel like that.”

“I can show up and do my thing and then go home and rest,” Scheffler said.

So far, that seems to be working. Through two days, it seems Scheffler hasn’t shown the best of his stuff, and yet he’s in the thick of the road heading into Saturday. But if Scheffler wins again and becomes the first player to win two majors in one year since Brooks Koepka won two in 2018, it will be hard for him to keep going under the radar.

the other types

While the leaderboard was filled with top players in the afternoon wave, there were still a few unknowns lurking. Morikawa’s leadership is shared with 34-year-old Joel Dahmen.

Dahmen is no stranger, he has three PGA Tour wins, but his performance has been amazing since Friday marked the first time he made the cut at the US Open. Last Monday, Dahmen tweeted that he had just qualified for the US Open and needed a place to stay. He’s staying all weekend now and he has a chance to end up with a lot of money, and maybe a trophy too.

Hayden Buckley is making only her second major appearance after missing the cut at last year’s US Open. Buckley is a Korn Ferry Tour alumnus ranked 259th in the world. He has three professional wins.

Nick Hardy, also from the Korn Ferry Tour, only has a little more experience, having only played in three majors in his career. He missed the cut in two of them and finished 52nd at the 2015 US Open. He only found out last Friday that he was in the field. Now, he is three under par and two off the lead.

Matthew NeSmith is the 168th ranked player in the world. This is only the second major appearance for him (he missed the cut in 2015). However, he has been buoyed by his iron game and has made two sub-70 rounds and is just 3 shots off the lead heading into the weekend.

“I didn’t know if I could compete with the big hitters from distance,” NeSmith said. “But it’s just that if you get in the game, I can let my iron game shine. That’s where I like to live and play a bunch of greens and see what we can do in a weekend.”

You don’t want to be in seventh place.

What Stats guru Justin Ray noted on Twitter on Friday, 25 of the last 26 US Open winners were tied for sixth place or better after two rounds. That’s enough of a trend to make seventh place, or worse, the place you don’t want to be on the weekend. That’s not good for Scheffler (T-7), Matt Fitzpatrick, Sam Burns (T-13) and more. The weekend could bring another exception to the rule. Scheffler’s track record speaks for itself. Sam Burns, who is in the same rental house as Scheffler this week, is also playing well lately; he has cracked the top 10 in the world for the first time in his career. Although he’s not playing alongside Scheffler, Burns said he’s definitely after him.

“I’m a little upset that he beat me by one,” Burns said with a laugh Friday. “Obviously, he’s had a fantastic year, and it motivated me a little bit to try to play a little bit better and try to keep up with him.”

Fitzpatrick has an obvious familiarity with the place after winning the 2013 US Amateur at Brookline.

“I’ve tried not to have expectations this week,” Fitzpatrick said after Thursday’s round. “I just want to enjoy the week, having obviously played so well here nine years ago. I have great memories of the place, and the whole time I’ve been away, I see the shots I hit and I see the places. I was. I think that’s why I’m a little bit calmer. I’m just trying not to put pressure on myself. It’s a golf course where I know I can do well, and I’m just trying to enjoy it.”

The LIV upgrade

As much as Koepka would like the spotlight to be off of LIV, it’s hard to do that when it’s been the hottest topic at The Country Club this week. After two rounds, only four of LIV’s 15 players (including Bryson DeChambeau and Patrick Reed, who have committed to play at the next LIV event in Portland) made the cut. DeChambeau, Reed, Richard Bland and Dustin Johnson will play this weekend; neither is under par.

Johnson, who is ranked 16th in the world, has been the best of the bunch. He is 1 up and tied for 31st after following up an opening round 68 with a 73.

Johnson said he hasn’t noticed any difference in fan reaction this week after leaving LIV. And when asked how well he could keep up with him playing only LIV events, Johnson was blunt: “As well as he would play anywhere.”

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