By Steve Keating
PEBBLEBEACH, CA. (Reuters) – Some of golf’s biggest names will try to chase down Gary Woodland after the American journeyman fired a record-equalling six-under 65 to take a two-shot lead into the third round of the U.S. Open on Saturday.
Woodland, who could not manage a top-10 finish in his first 27 major championships, caught everyone’s attention on Friday when he rolled in a monster 50-foot birdie on his final hole to put the finishing touch to an error-free round.
The score matched the lowest round for a U.S. Open staged at the Pebble Beach Golf Links first set by Tiger Woods in 2000 and equalled by Englishman Justin Rose on Thursday.
Woodland did, however, break one record, with his nine-under 133 eclipsing Woods’s midway total also set in 2000 when he stormed to a 15-shot victory at Pebble Beach.
The 35-year-old Woodland will tee off at 2:45 PT (2145 GMT) in the company of 2013 U.S. Open winner Rose, who had been parked at the top the leaderboard until being knocked from his perch late in the day.
Despite a lack of results at the majors, going out last will not be unfamiliar for Woodland, who held the 36-hole lead at the 2018 PGA Championship before fading to a tie for sixth.
But there will be major pressure coming from behind with South African Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 British Open champion, three back and compatriot Aaron Wise one further adrift.
Rory McIlroy, riding the momentum from a rampaging win at the Canadian Open, survived a rollercoaster second round to remain in the thick of the hunt just four back.
Two-time defending champion Brooks Koepka, bidding to become the first player in more than a century to sweep three consecutive U.S. Opens, has not yet fired on all cylinders but lurks menacingly five off the pace.
Two golfers a bit further behind will get plenty of attention with Woods and Phil Mickelson poised to make charges.
Mickelson, runner-up a record six times at the U.S. Open and needing a victory here to complete the career grand slam, entertained his legions of fans with a swashbuckling second two-under 69 that moved him up the leaderboard on to the fringes of contention eight back.
Sitting nine off the pace, Woods will also need to produce something special if he wants to be a factor on Sunday and have a shot at a 16th major.
(Editing by Clare Fallon)