Graeme McDowell and Padraig Harrington see no reason why runaway leader Rory McIlroy can’t cruise to US Open glory at Congressional.
Ireland’s most recent major winners finished the day 13 shots behind the pace-setting Holywood star on two over par with Harrington carding a 73 and McDowell a three over 74 on a stop-start afternoon as Shane Lowry missed the cut by two.
Barring a miracle, they know they have absolutely no chance of overhauling the youngster at the top of the leaderboard.
And they believe that if McIlroy continues to play even remotely as well as he has for the first two days, he will be unstoppable on a course that fits his game like a glove.
“I caught a bit of his round over breakfast,” said an impressed McDowell. “You forget the rest of the field is one or two under par. It’s tough to keep it in perspective.
“If you can drive it long and straight on this course it works well. He’s probably the best driver of the ball I’ve ever seen. We nicknamed him the BMW because he is the Ultimate Driving Machine.
“I played off his drives at the Ryder Cup. I’d love to do it for one week playing off his drives. Fair play he’s decimated this US Open golf course and this is no easy test. It’s an amazing display of golf.
“Although he is 22 years old he’s a very experienced young man and his experience at Augusta will stand him in good stead here. He probably won’t get a better US Open lay out that suits him than this.
“You have to drive the ball very well and he’s probably one of the best drivers to hit a ball that I’ve ever seen. I wish him all the best. I’m going to go out in the morning and try and post a number and get under par and see if I can have a shot at it on Sunday.”
While McIlroy lost a four shot final round lead in the Masters, Harrington believes it will be far harder for McIlroy’s rivals to attack him on a US Open weekend set up.
Harrington said: “He’s got enough experience and I think he’s learned enough at this stage. This golf course suits him. It will only suit him even more on the weekend as they’ll toughen it up.
“It plays to a guy who has a lead. He’s in a great position. Augusta can always catch up with you. On any of those par fives you can take a double bogey with your rival making eagle but there’s not holes like that out here. Most of the holes if you hit a bad shot you are making bogey. There’s not big swing holes.”
Harrington was disappointed to drop three shots over the last six holes of a round that was delayed by 42 minutes by a thunderstorm as he came off the ninth.
The Dubliner was level par through the turn having followed a bogey at the third, where he was bunkered greenside and missed from five feet, with a birdie from 20 feet at the eighth.
The pace of the greens changed considerably after the downpour that accompanied the thunderstorm and like many, Harrington failed to adjust. Understandably, he was disappointed to miss three putts inside 10 feet on the way home.
After stiffing his second to the 12th to briefly share eighth place on one under, the three-time major winner short-sided himself going aggressively for the tight left pin at the par-three 13th and failed with a 10 footer for par.
He then took three to get down from just off the 15th green, where he left his chip from the fringe five feet short and missed the par putt.
At the par-five 16th, he found sand off the tee and then missed from six feet for birdie after a fine third. But his luck failed to improve over the last two holes.
At the 17th he left a downhill, 25 foot birdie chance four feet short and while he saved par there, he closed with a bogey at the last.
He could easily have ended up making a big number after hooking his drive so badly that it bounced off the roof of a portaloo and ricocheted away from the out of bounds and finished in the left rough.
He recovered to the apron but after electing to putt to the back pin location from 20 yards, he came up nearly 15 feet short and dropped another stroke.
He said: “In other US Opens two over par wouldn’t be too far out but it’s probably too much to ask now. You have to expect the course to be toughened up substantially over the weekend. It was a pity about my finish.
“At one under par I was going forward but at two under par I’m not feeling so good about things. The form Rory is in it is a long way back.”
McDowell opened with bogeys at the 10th and 11th, birdied the 17th but then double bogeyed the tough fourth and followed a birdie four at the sixth with a bogey six at the last.
“I played scrappy,” McDowell said. “It was tough getting into the right mindset there. When you see what Rory is doing to the golf course it’s tough not to go out there and want to attack and then you get frustrated.
“Starting on the back is tough on ten and 11 and you can’t get into a rhythm. I hung tough around the turn and the storm delay killed my momentum. I didn’t swing the club very well on the last stretch of holes. Key was missing a few fairways.”
Lowry failed to find the fairways consistently and added a 76 to his opening 72 to miss four over par cut by two shots.
He was bitterly disappointed afterwards but in good company alongside the likes of Stewart Cink, Adam Scot, Hunter Mahan, Rickie Fowler, Justin Rose, Nick Watney, Aaron Baddeley, Ian Poulter, David Toms, Jim Furyk and Congressional’s 1997 champion, Ernie Els.
“I just suppose you can’t play that golf course from where I was hitting it off the tee,” Lowry said with a sigh. “That was the main thing yesterday and again today.
“Yesterday I did well to get it around. I’m very disappointed to be honest but I suppose it’s not my last US Open.”
Lowry came to Congressional with his hopes high after some recent success but left feeling low as he prepare for next week’s European Tour event in Germany.
“I was quite confident coming in here and to miss the cut by one is going to be quite hard to take over the weekend. I’ll get back, practice over the weekend and get ready for Germany next week.
“It’s a tough one because my confidence is after taking a bit of a knock today and yesterday. I thought I was playing well. But out there I couldn’t do anything right. It’s disappointing it’s going to be one shot but what can I do. That’s golf, there’s always next week.”