It’s not the kind of leaderboard that makes someone want to cancel their weekend plans to stay home and watch the last two rounds of the U.S. Open.
Paul Casey. Tommy Fleetwood. Brooks Koepka. Brian Harman. All at seven under par at Erin Hills.
Between them all you won’t find one winner of a major and only Fowler with star power.
There are 23 golfers within four shots of the lead and 42 players under par.
The cut was at one-over par after Friday’s round, allowing 68 golfers to make it to the weekend.
The top three golfers in the world, and six of the top 10, didn’t make it.
This assortment at the top was made possible when the wheels momentarily came off Fowler’s game after his lights-out, record-setting 65 at Erin Hills on Thursday. He was coasting along Friday, playing par golf and hanging out at the top of the leaderboard.
Then, inexplicably, he lost his putting touch. He bogeyed the 11th, 12th and 13th holes and missed a short birdie putt on the par-five 14th.
“I just hit a three-wood a touch left on 11, and I had to try and hit something out of the rough, and ended up in a tough spot behind the green,” Fowler said. “Then three-putt the next two holes. So I really could have been through there with just one bogey. … So, all in all, not bad.”
He’s still very much in play after shooting a 73.
Casey was the only leader who went in the morning. Starting on the back nine, he exchanged a birdie on 11 with a bogey on 12. No harm, no foul.
Then came the par-five 14th hole. His second shot drifted off the fairway, and his third was over the green in the fescue. He failed to advance his fourth shot more than a foot as the high grass grabbed the club. It didn’t get any better when he finally made the green. Triple bogey, eight.
He then bogeyed the 15th hole, hitting it short of the green in two and failing to get up and down. So there he stood at two under and seemingly out of the picture.
But then, starting at 17, he reeled off five straight birdies.
Casey said he couldn’t remember the last time he had five birdies in a row or an eight in a competitive round.
“Not every day you enjoy a round of golf with an eight on the card,” Casey said. “But I’m a pretty happy man. Yeah, it was a bit of a roller coaster. … [It’s tough to get through] a U.S. Open or any major without some kind of hiccup.”
Koepka is one of those players that the smart guys like to put in their fantasy league. Lots of talent, just looking for that one break-out moment.
This is his sixth year on the Tour and fifth U.S. Open. His best finish was fourth in 2014 at Pinehurst. He was 13th last year at Oakmont. He has won one tournament on the PGA Tour.
Koepka, playing the back nine first, birdied four of his first seven holes. Then his game flattened out on the front nine, bogeying one and six. He missed a six-foot putt on his last hole, which would have given him sole possession of the lead.
“I made two bad swings on the front nine,” Koepka said. “I got in a hazard on one. And I pulled the four-iron on the par-three [sixth]. If you do that you’re going to deserve a bogey out there.”
Fleetwood found his way to the top with a rather ordinary four-birdie, two-bogey round. The 26-year-old Englishman has never won on the PGA Tour, but he has won four times on the European Tour. This is only his second U.S. Open, finishing 27th in 2015.
“Tomorrow will be a very cool experience,” Fleetwood said. “Anything can happen. There are always ups and downs out there.”
The left-handed Harman had three birdies, two of them on par threes, and one bogey. At 30, Harman has been around long enough to claim two PGA victories. This is his third try at the U.S. Open and the first time he has made the cut.
“I have no expectations,” he said. “I have no idea how the weekend is going to go, no one does. For me, if I can just stay where I am, just keep doing what I’m doing, I’ll have a chance.”
The rounds of the day were turned in by Hideki Matsuyama and Chez Reavie, who equaled Fowler’s 65 on Thursday. Matsuyama birdied six of his first eight holes and picked up a birdie on the 13th to put him at five under for the tournament after an opening 74
Rain is expected on Saturday, which should make the greens easy to stick and putt. But on Sunday, the winds, which so far have been mild, are expected to be in a force making the final round a real test of skill.
The last six majors have been taken by first-time winners. It’s looking as if that streak could grow to seven.
Follow John Cherwa on Twitter @jcherwa