Dustin Johnson took a huge step towards a second US Open victory in three years as Tiger Woods looked set to miss the cut at Shinnecock Hills.
Johnson, aiming to become only the second player after Woods to win the title as world No 1, carded a second round of 67 to set a daunting clubhouse target of four under par.
But playing partner Woods fell foul of the opening hole for the second day running before a late rally gave him a 72 and an outside chance of avoiding only the third missed cut of his career in the event.
England’s Tommy Fleetwood produced the lowest score of the week to date with a superb 66 to finish one over par alongside Henrik Stenson, who recovered from a poor start to shoot 70.
“I like golf courses where par is a really good score and here, on every hole, par is a good score,” said Johnson. “I played well and my speed on my putts has been very good. To hole that one on the seventh [from 45 feet] was a nice bonus.”
Woods ran up a triple-bogey seven on the 407-yard par four in a first round of 78 and made a double bogey on the same hole following a terrible approach from the middle of the fairway. Further dropped shots on the second and sixth left Woods on 12 over par and seemingly certain to make an early exit, only for birdies at the eighth and ninth to keep his faint hopes alive.
“It’s just what I have done the last few events, I have not putted well,” said Woods. “You don’t win major championships slapping it around the place and missing putts.”
Fleetwood finished fourth at Erin Hills last year and is relishing another tough challenge over the weekend as he looks to become only the third English winner of the US Open since 1924.
“I have a lot of patience and the tougher the conditions the more I feel I can grind it out and will my way around,” the European No 1 said. “If you are going to win the US Open, which is one of the biggest tournaments in the world, it should be that kind of test.
“It’s a tournament that sets up for good ball strikers, which is one of my strengths. Yesterday we got beat up and today turned into survival midway through the wind when it was cold and raining, but I managed to get something going with some birdies at the end.”
Fleetwood’s penchant for meditation will come in handy for what is traditionally the toughest of the game’s four major championships.
“I haven’t done it much recently actually, I should be doing it more, but I am quite good at it,” Fleetwood said. “I’m a patient person and honestly this kind of course and conditions and tournament, they almost pull you into the present anyway.
“All that’s going to happen if you start thinking ahead is you’re going to think how tough it’s going to be. Or if you do think of maybe chances that you’re going to have, any slight loss of concentration and you’re going to make a mess.
“You can’t do anything but focus on what you’re doing at the time, and that just seems to have a good effect on me sometimes. I can do the patience bit. You’ve just got the golf to do then. If you can put those two together, you do have a good combination.
“I was lucky enough to have one of the best weeks of my life last year and I’ve had a good round today. But two more days left to go so hopefully, we can just keep it going.”
Fleetwood’s patience was sorely tested by being six over par after 15 holes of the first round, but he played the remaining three in one under for a 75, on a day when the scoring average was 76.47.
“I was on a bad run of bogeys but managed to grab a birdie in the last three and shoot 66 today and all of a sudden, you’re pretty much in contention,” he added.
“It can switch like that and I think you just have to keep in mind that you never know what’s going to happen”
As he sought to improve on his first round 73, Russell Knox bogeyed the second and tenth to go five over for the tournament, one behind fellow Scot Calum Hill, who was one under par for the day after eight holes following a birdie at his opening hole, the tenth.
It was a disappointing day for Richie Ramsay and amateur Ryan Lumsden, who finished their second rounds on 13 over and 18 over respectively and headed out of the tournament.