LOS ANGELES — Rickie Fowler followed up a historic 8-under 62 in the first round of the 2023 U.S. Open with a 68 in Friday’s second round to grab a 1-stroke lead over Wyndham Clark heading into the weekend at Los Angeles Country Club.
Rory McIlroy (67) and Xander Schauffele (70) were each 2 strokes back in third.
With a scorecard that resembled a roller coaster, Fowler continued his chaotic but impressive play by making eight birdies, four pars and six bogeys in his second round. His erratic scoring was emblematic of a course that prides itself on rewarding good shots and punishing errant ones.
“It’s not that easy out there,” Fowler said. “Yes, I’ve made a lot of birdies, and that is doable out there. It’s still a very hard test. You hit fairways and hit greens, yes, you can score well, but you get out of position and it’s going to eat you up.”
After carding 10 birdies in Round 1, Fowler now has 18 birdies, the most birdies or better in the U.S. Open through two rounds. It’s also the most birdies or better over any two-round span within a major over the past 30 years, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
Fowler’s 14 non-pars Friday are the most he has ever had in a competitive round.
With a total score of 130 through two days, Fowler tied Martin Kaymer’s performance at Pinehurst in 2014 for the fewest strokes through two days of a U.S. Open. Coincidentally, it was at that 2014 U.S. Open that Fowler had one of his best major finishes as he tied for second.
That year was a banner one for Fowler, who finished top five in every major and twice in second place. Over the next few years, he added six other top-five finishes in majors but was unable to get over the hump and add a title to his résumé.
This time could be different. Fowler has had at least a share of the 36-hole lead at a major only once in his career (2017 Masters), but he has never been the outright leader at a major through 36 holes until Friday.
“Having a lead right now doesn’t really mean much,” Fowler said. “A little different once you get to after 54 holes because that’s when things really heat up.”
Though Fowler has been trending in the right direction this PGA Tour season with six top-10 finishes and one runner-up, he is coming off only two major appearances over the past two years, both at the PGA Championship, where he missed the cut a month ago.
“I sure hope everyone can relate to struggles because everyone deals with them,” Fowler said. “No one’s perfect. I think you’d be lying if you haven’t been through a tough time, especially if you play golf.”
So far this week, Fowler isn’t exactly lapping the field on any one statistic, but he has been solid throughout the bag, gaining a total of 4.25 strokes, good for 13th best in the field. Fowler said he thought the only area where he gave away some shots was on long-range putts. He said he would look to clean up those mistakes ahead of Saturday, knowing that holding on to the lead for another 36 holes will be difficult.
“I’m looking forward to the weekend,” Fowler said. “It’s been a while since I’ve felt this good in a tournament, let alone a major. It’s going to be a challenge, but I’m definitely looking forward to it.”
Schauffele, who matched Fowler’s record-breaking 62 on Thursday, had a wild ride of his own.
He was tied for the lead at one point early on the back nine, approaching a few holes that could yield birdies. They produced bogeys instead, both times with a wedge in hand on the par-5 14th and the 115-yard 15th hole.
He birdied the final two holes to stay very much in the game.
“Just leaking some oil,” Schauffele said. “I bogeyed two holes I was supposed to have good birdie looks on. But I’m happy with how I finished.”
Clark, who last month broke through with his first PGA Tour title against an elite field at Quail Hollow, started strong with a bold flop shot that set up a birdie and a 40-foot birdie putt on the back nine, and then he held it together over his final nine holes.
Closing fast was McIlroy, without a major in nine years, overcoming a rugged start with four birdies on his last five holes. He was at 132, the sixth time he has been 8 under or lower going into the weekend at a major. He won three of those previous five times.
“I felt like coming into this week that was going to be a key for me if I could put the ball in play. You can play from there and create some scoring opportunities,” McIlroy said. “That’s really my game plan over the next couple days. Put the ball in play off the tee and I think I’ll be just fine from there.”
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.