San Diego – For the second consecutive day, morning gray slowly faded to glorious blue skies and bright sunshine.
The leader board at the 2008 U.S. Open also morphed from one hue to another. But the challenging Torrey Pines South Course layout caused a change from red to black, which is never a pretty sight for the world’s best players.
Midway through the second round on Friday, only two competitors had completed 36 holes in red figures.
D.J. Trahan, the 2000 U.S. Amateur Public Links champion and ’01 USA Walker Cupper who has two PGA Tour victories to his credit, carded a 2-under-par 69 to stand at 1-under 141 through 36 holes. He shares the 36-hole clubhouse lead with Davis Love III, who closed with three birdies over his last four holes to match Trahan’s 69. Another stroke back is former Great Britain and Ireland Walker Cup standout Luke Donald, of England, who posted a second consecutive 71.
Seven other players who posted sub-par rounds Thursday had afternoon starting times: first-round co-leader Justin Hicks (-3), and Rocco Mediate, Stuart Appleby and Eric Axley, all of whom shot 69 Thursday, and the group at 70 that included amateur Rickie Fowler, Lee Westwood and Robert Karlsson. Also out in the afternoon was the super-grouping of Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Adam Scott.
First-round co-leader Kevin Streelman got off to a 5-over start, including a triple-bogey 6 at the par-3 third, and finished with a 6-over 77. Geoff Ogilvy, the 2006 champion, two-time winner Ernie Els and Robert Allenby all fell back slightly. All three are at even-par 142 after carding 73, 72, 72, respectively.
Several well-known players, however, will not be playing the weekend, including defending champion Angel Cabrera (13-over 155).
“Strangely, I felt like I played better yesterday,” said Harrington, who had a 7-over 78 Thursday afternoon. “Yesterday was very difficult on the greens in the afternoon.”
Trahan and Love each needed to go through sectional qualifying to secure a spot in the field. Trahan, from Mt. Pleasant, S.C.,, survived a playoff in Roswell, Ga., for the last of three spots, while Love made it through one of the “tour” sites in Columbus, Ohio.
Trahan, however, has never been enthralled with the Torrey Pines layout, having missed the cut twice in his three PGA Tour starts at the venue. Part of his antipathy is due to the poa annua greens, which can be spongy, especially in January or early February when the Buick Invitational is held. The firmer and faster conditions at the U.S. Open have changed the playing characteristics, although the 27-year-old Trahan said the greens were much trickier to read Thursday afternoon versus Friday morning.
“It’s night and day,” said Trahan, the 2008 Bob Hope Chrysler Classic champion. “I can’t even tell you the difference. Yesterday afternoon it looked like we were putting on – I don’t know if you have ever watched "The Price Is Right," but that Plinko where they drop the little thing and it starts going back. That’s what you feel like when you’re standing over it, and that’s on six-footers. You’re just … if I bounce it off that bump, maybe it will bounce off that one and bounce back into the hole.”
But with one of the better scores, Trahan, who is competing in his second U.S. Open (missed cut in 2006), will have to prepare for a late Saturday starting time, possibly the last pairing of the day.
“Obviously, the leaders are going to be putting on the worst greens because they will be the last ones off,” added Trahan, “but I think the greens will be significantly better over the weekend with that much less traffic on them.”
Seeing the 44-year-old Love atop the leader board might be a bit of a surprise for some, considering his fall from the Top 50 in the World Ranking. His consecutive major streak ended at 70 in April when he failed to get into the Masters. But on June 2, he qualified for his 18th consecutive U.S. Open, after enduring the 36-hole process for the first time since the late 1980s.
“I know the year (1988) my daughter was born I did have to qualify [for the U.S. Open] … and she just turned 20,” said Love. “I wish the Masters had 36-hole qualifying because I think I could have made it through.”
Love has been hampered by a torn tendon in his left ankle, an injury he suffered after stepping in a hole while playing golf at home in Sea Island, Ga., in September. He spent time rehabbing over the offseason and has gradually worked himself back into golf shape.
While missing the Masters was disappointing, Love took the setback in stride.
“A lot of people that week said it was a shame,” said Love, the 1997 PGA champion. “I said, you know what, guys get hurt and don’t get to play in the Stanley Cup playoffs and they get hurt and don’t get to play in the NBA finals or the World Series. So I have looked at it that way. I took it with a grain of salt.”
Love’s major experience and patience seems to be paying off at Torrey Pines. He made a clutch par save at the first hole to keep the good feelings from Thursday’s 72, which included several par saves.
“I heard [ESPN/NBC commentator] Roger Maltbie during the telecast yesterday morning, when somebody hit it in the rough and hit a wedge out, and hit a wedge on the green and made a putt, go 'that’s a U.S. Open par,' ” said Love. “And I’ve been doing that. I’ve been living that the last two days. I think I am putting well enough to do that.”
David Shefter is a USGA staff writer in New Media. E-mail him with questions or comments at email@example.com.