The icing rose to the top on day two of the US Open when a quartet of great champions, including Rory McIlroy, helped set up a ravishing weekend at Brookline.
Open champion Collin Morikawa carded an excellent 66 to share the lead with fellow countryman Joel Dahmen at five under par, with reigning US Open champion Jon Rahm and four-time big winner McIlroy trailing.
Masters champion Scottie Scheffler was once again part of the group, with England’s Matt Fitzpatrick three of the pace at two under.
“It’s great,” Rahm said of the stacked standings after his 67. “I think it’s a testament to the health and state of this game.
“It’s fun for all of us because we all want to compete against the best and beat the best, and of course it’s much more fun for people watching.
“I think it’s great for the game of golf to have the highest ranked players and the best players out there, especially in the tournament where really the best player wins in the end.”
McIlroy was in danger of falling out of contention when he covered the front nine in 36, the world’s number three who took three attempts to hack the green from thick rough on the third, before holed from 7 feet to a to save a double bogey.
But after dropping a shot on the 10th, McIlroy picked up shots on the 12th, 14th and 17th to remain firmly in the hunt for his fifth major title and first since the 2014 US PGA.
“I think I’m going to have to go out this week thinking I’m going to try and win my first again,” McIlroy said after turning 69.
“I play golf as well as I’ve played in a long time. I have a lot of experience. I’m in a good place. I’m very happy with where my game is, and I think that’s the most important thing.”
Scheffler was two more than after seven holes, but then birdied the eighth and 13th, hit a 55-yard hole for eagle on the 14th par-five and got another shot on the 16th in his attempt for a great fifth win in 2022.
“I just stayed very patient,” Scheffler said. “I was doing well for most of the day. Two stupid bogeys early in the lap, but other than that I hit it really well.
“If only a few more putts had fallen instead of (running) around the rim it would have been a very special day. But three under was a good score for me, especially two over through six.”
Fitzpatrick recovered from a hat-trick by bogeys to play his last five holes at two under par as he looks to secure a Brookline double after his 2013 American amateur win here in 2013.
“I played very, very well,” said Fitzpatrick, who finished fifth in the US PGA last month. “I feel like I’ve left a few behind, which is quite rare to say in a US Open, but it’s positive going into the weekend.”
Twenty-five players scored in the first round in the 1960s, the second-highest total in tournament history and just two behind the record of 27 at Pebble Beach in 2019.
But with gusty winds helping to dry out the track, six-time big winner Nick Faldo predicted conditions would get tougher this weekend.
“It’s really filthy, windy, rambunctious, and there’s some really tough holes,” said Faldo, who lost a playoff to Curtis Strange in the 1988 US Open at Brookline after taking over the commentary duties for US broadcaster CBS. completed.
“To be honest, everyone in red will be very happy and in a great place. It just gets harder. They can let go of this course and it can get really tough.”
However, with a thunderstorm threatening to bring stronger winds past The Country Club, the later starters managed to take advantage of good conditions to climb the standings.
South African qualifier MJ Daffue had reached six under earlier in the day when he punched a hole from 80 feet on the seventh, to replay his last eight holes in five.
World number eight Viktor Hovland was just one shot from the lead after two early birdies, but made six holes in a row around the bend and dropped three more shots on the final stretch to shoot a disheartening 77.