Rickie Fowler, who made history with an 8-under 62 score in the first round of the 2023 U.S. Open, followed it up with a 2-under 68 in the second round to take a one-stroke lead over Wyndham Clark heading into the weekend at the Los Angeles Country Club. Rory McIlroy and Xander Schauffele were each two strokes back in third. Fowler’s second-round scorecard showed eight birdies, four pars, and six bogeys. His erratic scoring was emblematic of a course that rewards good shots and punishes errant ones. Fowler admitted that the course was challenging, and even though he had made a lot of birdies, he still found the test to be challenging. If you hit fairways and greens, you can score well, but getting out of position could be disastrous.
Fowler now has 18 birdies, the most birdies or better in the U.S. Open through two rounds. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, this is also the most birdies or better over any two-round span within a major over the past 30 years. Fowler’s 13 non-pars on 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 finished tied for second. While Fowler had six top-five finishes in majors over the next few years, he was unable to add one to his résumé. This time, however, things could be different. Fowler has never been the outright leader at a major through 36 holes until Friday.
Schauffele, Clark, and McIlroy Close on Fowler’s Heels
Xander 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.
Wyndham Clark, who broke through with his first PGA Tour title against an elite field at Quail Hollow last month, 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.
Rory McIlroy, without a major in nine years, overcame 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. McIlroy felt that putting the ball in play was essential for him to create scoring opportunities.
Fowler may have a one-stroke lead going into the weekend, but Schauffele, Clark, and McIlroy are all within striking distance. Fowler has been trending in the right direction this PGA Tour season, with six top-10 finishes and one runner-up. However, 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. Fowler is aware that holding on to the lead for another 36 holes will be difficult, but he is looking forward to the challenge.