Åberg beats the heat, field for 36-hole lead at Pinehurst

Mother Nature turned up the heat on Friday at Pinehurst Resort & Country Club as temperatures soared into the 90s. But the second round of a U.S. Open is always played in a cauldron, whether the mercury approaches triple digits or the patience of the 156 competitors just reaches a boiling point.

Intensity, elation and frustration are all tangible characteristics that can be found as the pressure mounts just to play the weekend.

While many expected Course No. 2 to extol a measure of revenge on this talented group of 140 professionals and 16 amateurs – and a few succumbed to Donald Ross’ masterpiece amid the heat and humidity that engulfed the North Carolina Sandhills – a good number of players maintained their cool.

OK, so first-round co-leader Rory McIlroy stumbled a little bit from his brilliant opening-round 65 to shoot 2-over-par 72. Nevertheless, the 35-year-old Northern Irishman’s 3-under total of 137 kept the 26-time PGA Tour winner within striking distance of ending a 10-year major-less drought. Patrick Cantlay, Thursday’s other co-leader, also slipped to a 1-over-par 71 but only is a shot back from the lead.

Åberg beats the heat, field for 36-hole lead in Pinehurst
Patrick Cantlay/Photo by Sandhills Sentinel photographer Mary Anne Pfrogner.

The midway leader is a 24-year-old Swede looking to become the first since amateur Francis Ouimet in 1913 to win the U.S. Open in his first attempt. That would be Ludvig Åberg, a lanky 2023 Texas Tech graduate who was the runner-up in his first-ever major championship start at the Masters Tournament this past April. Åberg was one of 22 players to post a sub-par score on Day 2, carding a 1-under 69 to go along with Thursday’s 66 for a 5-under total of 135.

The course played nearly a half-stroke easier on Friday (72.8) than in Thursday’s opening round (73.25).

Lurking one stroke behind is 2020 U.S. Open champion Bryson DeChambeau, of Grapevine, Texas, already with a runner-up finish (PGA Championship) and a share of eighth (Masters) in majors this year, Thomas Detry, of Belgium, who tied for fourth in last month’s PGA Championship, 2024 Farmers Insurance Open champion Matthieu Pavon, of France, and eight-time PGA Tour winner Cantlay, of Jupiter, Fla., seeking his first major title despite a decorated career that includes two Ryder Cup appearances. DeChambeau, Detry and Pavon posted rounds of 69, 67 and 69, respectively.

McIlroy and long-hitting Tony Finau, of Lehi, Utah, like Cantlay, a multi-time PGA Tour winner without a major title on his résumé, sit two strokes back. Finau, whose best U.S. Open finish is solo fifth in 2018 at Shinnecock Hills, backed up a first-round 68 with a 69.

Hideki Matsuyama, the 2021 Masters champion who became the first male player from Japan to win a major, produced a bogey-free 66 on Friday – joining McIlroy and Sergio Garcia to achieve that feat – to move into solo eighth at 138.

Åberg beats the heat and field for 36-hole lead at Pinehurst
Hideki Matsuyama/Photo by Sandhills Sentinel photographer Mary Anne Pfrogner.

Six others are at 1-under 139, including the 2024 PGA champion Xander Schauffele and Raleigh, N.C., resident Akshay Bhatia, bidding to become the first left-hander to win a U.S. Open.

The cut of low 60 and ties came at 5-over 145 and included world No. 1 Scottie Scheffler, past U.S. Open champions Matt Fitzpatrick and Brooks Koepka and 2018 British Open champion Francesco Molinari, who aced his final hole, the par-3 ninth, to jump from 7 over to 5 over.

Last year at this time, Åberg was embarking on a professional career after several All-American seasons in Lubbock, Texas. It didn’t take him long to make an impact, as he won the DP World Tour’s Omega European Masters and was a captain’s pick for Luke Donald’s European Ryder Cup Team that triumphed in Italy. Last fall, he won the PGA Tour’s RSM Classic at Sea Island Golf Club in Georgia and continued his fine form into 2024 before a knee injury slowed his progress at last month’s PGA Championship, where he missed the cut.

Over the course of two rounds, nobody has been better at playing typical U.S. Open golf than Åberg, who has hit 26 of 28 fairways and 30 of 36 greens to lead the field. That has taken the pressure off trying to be creative around the inverted-saucer putting surfaces that typify Course No. 2.

“This being my first one, I think a U.S. Open is supposed to be hard,” said Åberg, who got a taste of Pinehurst five years ago when he qualified for match play at the U.S. Amateur. “It’s supposed to be tricky, and it’s supposed to challenge any aspect of your game. And I feel like it’s really doing that. But super fortunate with the way that things have turned out over the last couple days, and hopefully we’ll be able to keep it up.”

A few years ago, DeChambeau, who also won the U.S. Amateur and NCAA Division I individual title in a magical 2015 season, looked like Lou Ferrigno in a polo as he hit the gym and ingested thousands of calories a day in an effort to bulk up. More recently, however, he’s trimmed down and focused more on nutrition without given up too much distance. It’s led to better results, at least in the majors, where he came up one stroke short of Schauffele last month at Valhalla Golf Club and contended into Sunday at Augusta.

Åberg beats the heat, field for 36-hole lead at Pinehurst, NC
Bryson DeChambeau/Photo by Sandhills Sentinel photographer Cow McFarland.

He had a roller-coaster Friday with five birdies against four bogeys yet finds himself in the hunt for major title No. 2. In 2020, he was the only player under par at Winged Foot in posting a six-stroke win. He’s also posted a pair of victories on LIV Golf, including at the Greenbrier in West Virginia, where he carded a 58.

“I’m not really focused on the total strokes gained for the most part, just trying to execute the best shot I can every single time under the conditions because it’s going to be different,” said DeChambeau. “This golf course is not going to be the same come tomorrow and the next day, and I’m expecting that. Us competitors, players, have to adjust to those conditions accordingly. Look, I’m excited for the game that I have right now. I feel pretty confident and ready to get after it this weekend.”

Detry, 31, took a different approach to his preparation for Pinehurst. Instead of playing early in the morning or during peak hours, he chose to practice in the twilight, coming to the course at 4 p.m. and spending at least 20 minutes on each green to understand the nuances of these unique putting surfaces. It looks to have paid off for the former University of Illinois All-American who arrived in Champaign lacking a great short game. On Friday, he needed just 28 putts and gained 3.25 strokes on the field, which ranked first in Round 2. Only a couple of closing bogeys on Nos. 6 and 8 – his 15th and 17th holes of the day – curtailed what could have been a 65.

“Especially with the late tee times I had [on Thursday], it was nice to see the course,” said Detry, who has averaged 1.68 putts per round. “I was still on the golf course Wednesday at 7 p.m. [You] kind of see the course and the conditions of play as close to what it’s going to be during tournament day.” 

Through two rounds at Pinehurst No. 2, Thomas Detry, of Belgium, has his game dialed in to win a possible maiden major title. (USGA/Jeff Haynes)

The 71 professionals and three amateurs who made the 36-hole cut will play an additional 36 holes on the weekend at Pinehurst No. 2. The third round will begin at 8:44 a.m. EDT. Broadcast coverage begins at 10 a.m. on USA Network and then switches over to NBC at noon.

Feature photo: Ludvig Åberg – Photo by Sandhills Sentinel photographer Mary Anne Pfrogner. 

~Written David Shefter USGA.

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