SAN FRANCISCO - US Open sites change every year, but the same kind of play is usually required to do well. Patience, precision, not many big numbers. Drives in the fairway, approach shots on the green, two-putt pars.
Boring golf, some call it. Graeme McDowell describes it another way.
“You’ve got to play Jim Furyk golf,’’ McDowell said.
Funny, because Furyk is tied for the lead after two rounds of the 112th US Open, shooting a 1-under-par 69 on the Lake Course at the Olympic Club on Friday to join Tiger Woods (70) and David Toms (70) at the top at the halfway mark. All three players are at 1-under 139.
What exactly is “Jim Furyk golf?’’ Let McDowell explain.
“I watched it yesterday and I watched it again today,’’ said McDowell, who was paired with Furyk the first two rounds, shot 72 on Friday, and is tied for fourth at 1 over, two shots back. “[He] doesn’t take chances he doesn’t have to take on. He gets it back in the fairway. He putts well. Holes out well. Takes his chances when it comes.
“I think you have to be, I don’t like the word ‘plodder,’ it’s kind of a little bit disrespectful. I think it’s an aggressive-to-conservative-targets type player. You’ve got to take your shots on, but play safe. I think that’s the kind of guy he is.’’
Furyk and McDowell have won US Opens, Furyk in 2003, McDowell two years ago. They have the hardware, and think they have the blueprint. The hard part is executing the game plan.
“The way the golf course is set up, that’s pretty much what you need to do,’’ Furyk said. “It’s get the ball in the fairway, get the ball on the green, and try to make four.
“And then there’s going to be a few places you can attack. You’re going to get some accessible pins and if you can hit a good shot in there you’ll get some opportunities at birdie. But there’s times where I’m in the middle of the fairway with a 7-iron in my hand and I know that 25, 30 feet is the best I can do, and that’s where I’m trying to put the ball.’’
In addition to his ’03 win, Furyk has four other top-five finishes at the US Open, and tied for 14th in 1998, the last time it was held at the Olympic Club. He opened with a three-putt bogey on No. 9 on Friday, but answered with three birdies, including at the par-3 15th and third, when he chipped in.
He’s comfortable in this tournament. Well, as comfortable as one can be at a US Open.
“There’s been years where I’ve gotten frustrated and I’ve gotten down on myself and I lost my patience and tried to force shots in spots and shot some pretty big numbers,’’ Furyk said. “But when I’m playing well and I’m patient and have some control of the ball, I do enjoy 70 being a really good round of golf. As difficult as it is, I understand this style of golf, and when I’m playing well I think it suits my game.’’
Furyk will be in the final twosome on Saturday with Woods, who briefly held the second-round lead by himself when first-round leader Michael Thompson (75) stumbled early. Woods gave it back with three straight bogeys, beginning on No. 5. But birdies at two tough holes - the par-4 10th and par-3 13th - got him back to 1 under, in prime position to make a run at his 15th major, which would end a four-year drought and give him a record-tying four US Opens.
“As far as the being in [the lead], I like it. 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.’’
The darling of the second round, at least for a while, was 17-year-old amateur Beau Hossler, who took sole possession of the lead when he calmly rolled in a birdie putt on No. 1 (he started at the ninth). Frequently glancing at leaderboards that had his name right alongside Furyk, Woods, Toms, and McDowell, Hossler opened with 70, then played his first 11 holes in 2 under to surprisingly jump in front.
“I was pretty excited about it, but then again I had another 40 holes at least to be playing in the tournament,’’ said Hossler, who recently completed his junior year at Santa Margarita High School in Mission Viejo, Calif., and has already committed to Texas. “I felt I was getting into a little bit of a zone. Unfortunately, I kind of lost it coming in.’’
Hossler fell back when he grasped the magnitude of the position he was in, or when he reached the toughest part of Olympic Club. Probably a combination of both. He bogeyed No. 2 to lose the outright lead, doubled No. 4 to lose a share of the lead, bogeyed Nos. 5, 6, and 8, and chipped in for birdie at the short seventh. An emotional 73, a round he’ll never forget.
“I would probably tell them they’re nuts,’’ Hossler said, when asked what his reaction would have been before the tournament if someone had said he’d hold the lead.
He’ll start the third round only four back, within shouting distance of Furyk, Woods, and Toms. Thirty-six tantalizing holes remain.