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OAKMONT, Pa. – Golf's "Big Three" might be in big trouble at the U.S. Open.
Jason Day, the top-ranked player in the world, needs to grind if he wants to make the cut, let alone get in the mix at rapidly drying out Oakmont. Jordan Spieth, the defending champion, spent a significant portion of his unexpected afternoon off trying to get his balky putter back on track. And Rory McIlroy's bid for a second Open title to go with the one he captured so easily five years ago may have ended before it really began.
While the leaderboard features a mix of familiar (Dustin Johnson, Sergio Garcia and Jim Furyk) and not so familiar names (hello, Andrew Landry) the twenty-somethings who have helped fill the vacuum left by Tiger Woods' decline are nowhere to be found.
Spieth wrapped up his water-logged first round early Friday morning, carding a 2-over 72 that included five bogeys, two birdies and a handful of exasperated looks after watching putt after putt burn the edge. Following one approach shot he held out his hands, turned and sighed "Oh my God" while flipping his club in frustration.
"You just have to really stay present, not get negative. I did a bit today," Spieth said. "(My caddie) was sure to knock me back into shape. I'll do a better job the next 54."
When Spieth arrives at Oakmont on Saturday morning faced with the prospect of playing 36 holes in a day, at least he'll do it in relatively good position. McIlroy not so much. His slow start Thursday only accelerated after the rain stopped. He slogged his way to a 7-over 77 thanks to a 40 on the back nine, finishing up a miserable 24 hours with three straight bogeys.
"Honestly, I've been struggling with my swing, even the practice rounds a little bit," McIlroy said. "I mean, I know what I'm doing, but it's hard to change it out there."
Particularly when the conditions are morphing too.
Thursday's gloom gave way to a clear sky and a steady breeze Friday morning, which was then replaced with in the afternoon with more benign conditions but also included greens double-rolled by the USGA during the hour break between the first and second rounds.
Day avoided the stop-start nature of Spieth and McIlroy's opening 18 holes, trading it instead for 12 hours on Friday battling his driver and searching for anything resembling a spark. He arrived at Oakmont as the hottest player on the planet, having won seven times since his ninth-place finish at Chambers Bay a year ago.
Yet he could do little during a shaky 76, starting his bid for a second major title to add to his romp in the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits last summer with a whimper. He bogeyed the first, double-bogeyed the seventh and struggled to take advantage of the few breathers Oakmont provides thanks to an inability to put himself in good position off the tee consistently.
Day hit 17 of 26 fairways and 20 of 33 greens before play was suspended to darkness with him at 5 over and three holes left in his second round. With Oakmont expected to tough up as the course continues to dry out, Day has a chance to stick around for the rest of the weekend.
Simply making the cut isn't what Day had in mind when he arrived in western Pennsylvania earlier in the week. His string of four straight top 10s at the Open is in serious jeopardy following a draining day that left some of the world's best players frazzled, scrambling or both.