Just as Tiger Woods caught the best weather of the draw at Pebble Beach in 2000, Rory McIlroy caught damp greens on Thursday afternoon and again on Friday morning, and the result was a new US Open scoring record for the first 36 holes of play, eclipsing the score of 132 held by Ricky Barnes. That’s not the only record he set.
McIlroy reached double digits earlier than any player in US Open history. Previously it was reached at 39 holes by Gil Morgan in 1992 at Pebble Beach. With an eagle on No. 8, McIlroy got to -10 thirteen holes sooner.
McIlroy’s last birdie of the day which came at the 17th put him at -13, and he became the first person in history to reach 13‑under at a U.S. Open Championship. Gil Morgan reached -12 in 1992, and Tiger Woods reached -12 in 2000, both at Pebble Beach.
“We are also potentially looking at new 36‑hole lead record,” said Beth Murrison of the USGA. “Currently, he holds an 8‑stroke lead after his play in the second round. The current record is 6 strokes, held by Tiger Woods in 2000 at Pebble Beach.”
With Rory McIlroy setting the bar so high for first two rounds of the 2011 US Open, you have to ask yourself, can anybody catch him?
The answer is yes. Anything can happen in any golf tournament with two rounds remaining. Bad things can happen fast at a US Open. Birdies and eagles can also happen, although at a US Open, typically, it’s more bad than good.
The biggest comeback in US Open history belongs to Arnold Palmer in the final round of the 1960 U.S. Open when he came from 7 strokes back to win the championship. There is a story that goes with it. The late Bob Drum, at the time a writer for a Pittsburgh newspaper, saw Palmer in the lunch room after the first 18 holes. In those days they played 36 on Saturday. Drum told Palmer he had no chance to win. Palmer countered by asking what if he posted 280. Drum told him there was no way Palmer could do that. Palmer took the comment personally and went out determined to both prove Drum wrong and to win. He drove the first green in the final 18 holes, went on to shoot 65, and the rest is history. Mike Souchak was the 54-hole leader at the time.
The biggest 36-hole comeback was by Lou Graham who was 11 back of the lead in the 1975 US Open at Medinah CC. He eventually tied John Mahaffey and forced a playoff. Tom Watson held the 36-hole lead as well as the 54-hole lead, which was a three-shots over the field. Watson finished 9th.
However, the biggest 36-hole lead by a non-winner was five by Mike Brady in 1919 and the biggest 36-hole lead by a winner was Tiger Woods with six strokes over his nearest competitor at Pebble Beach in 2000. That is exactly Rory McIlroy’s lead over Y.E. Yang at the half-way point of the 2011 U.S. Open.
For most to overtake McIlroy, they would need two great rounds. Some are better at going low than others, and a number of players making the cut at the US Open are certainly capable of low scores.
This season, Phil Mickelson went 63-65, -16, in the final two rounds at the Shell Houston Open.
Bill Haas shot 62-66 in the last two rounds of the Bob Hope Classic in January. After two rounds, he is at +3 as darkness approaches.
Robert Rock, the winner of the BMW Italian Open last week, shot a 64 in that tournament. He is at +1 headed to Saturday.
Retief Goosen shot 63-63 in the last two rounds of the 2010 South African Open and has already won two US Opens. He is at +4.
Charl Schwartzel has a low 36 holes of -13 this season at the Joburg Open, but it was the first 36 holes. He is even par.
Alvaro Quiros and Robert Rock have both been -5 for nine holes this season. Quiros made up an eight stroke deficit in the Omega Dubai Desert Classic to win it. He is -1for the tournament.
Brandt Snedeker who won recently at Harbour Town, a precision golf course, is -2, as is former Masters champ Zach Johnson.
Sergio Garcia has come back from the hinterlands and is in third heading to the weekend. His lowest round on the European Tour is a 62 at the Scottish Open, which traditionally is before The Open Championship. His low round on the PGA Tour is also 62, and he has recorded that number four times.
Closest of all is Y.E. Yang who defeated Tiger Woods head-to-head at the PGA Championship in 2009.
Except for Yang’s victory at the PGA Championship, none of low scores were played in US Open type conditions. However, the rain softened Congressional CC has not played like a traditional US Open venue, either. It has been made easier because the greens are softer due to rains. Balls stop instead of bouncing over them. The fairways, too are softer, keeping balls in the short grass more readily.
What will happen before a champion is crowned on Sunday? Right now, it all depends on whether Rory goes low again on Saturday and puts the tournament into totally new territory. He has a chance to make it the biggest US Open victory in history.
Kathy Bissell is a Golf Writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained first-hand or from official interview materials from theUSGA, PGA Tour, PGA of America..of the European Tour.