Graeme McDowell holed a huge birdie putt from 20 yards across the treacherous ninth green in fading light at a rapidly changing Oakmont and insisted that his 2016 US Open title bid if far from over.
The 36-year old 2010 champion was staring down the barrel of the cut line when he slipped out to five over par for the championship with just five holes of his second round remaining.
But he dug deep as McDowell is wont to do and opting to finish the hole after the hooter to suspend play had sounded, he raised his arms in triumph in the Pennsylvania twilight as his 60 footer climbed a ridge, fizzed silently across the huge ninth green and climbed another ridge before catching the back of the hole for the most unlikely of birdie threes at one of Oakmont’s toughest holes.
It all added up to one over 71 for McDowell, who had three putted the 18th for a 72 in the morning to go in for lunch with a man-sized job to do in the afternoon.
At three over par, he’s seven strokes behind co-leaders Dustin Johnson and Andrew Landry but McDowell very much believes that two or three under par weekend and a level par total could give him a shot at the second major title he so desperately craves.
“It made up for some more ordinary putting earlier in the day,” McDowell said of his monster putt. “The greens were very difficult and very tricky this afternoon. They were certainly a foot to two feet quicker than they were in the morning and the pins were really treacherous.
“So I really feel like I hit good shots today. I hit it in some nice positions and the putter let me down a few times on my speed. I dropped a couple late coming in this morning and a couple got away from me late this afternoon as well. It was nice to finish well and make a big one on the last.
“I birdied the sixth and made a nice par save on seven, a nice par save on eight and a nice putt on the last so that made up for a weak day on the greens.”
McDowell bogeyed the 14th on Friday afternoon to go three over, then dropped shots back to back at the third and fourth to bring the cut line into focus as he headed down the tough closing stretch on the front.
But he responded wonderfully, curling in a 15 footer for birdie at the sixth before saving par with good scrambling at the seventh and eighth.
“I birdied the sixth and made a nice par save on seven, a nice par save on eight and a nice putt on the last so that made up for a weak day on the greens,” McDowell said.
“It was around 60 feet across the slope and as I say, the greens were very quick this afternoon and all of a sudden from bogeying the par-five fourth to go to five over with five to go, I am thinking about the cut line and then I scrambled and made a couple of birdies and all of a sudden you are not out of the tournament any more.
“Three over par is not out of this golf tournament with 36 holes to go. With the drying effect we are going to see this weekend, this golf course is going to get back to speed and level or a couple under par from here will have a sniff and it’s nice to be in the mix.
“It’s a funny feeling in the US Open. You look at the boards, especially this morning, and I was hanging in and hanging in and you look up expecting to see five under and no-one seems to do it.
“This golf course is so difficult, the way it is set up, the rough, the green complexes, it is a really tough test of golf. There are only a few guys who have separated themselves but they are not going to get far ahead. There is always a 75 out there if you get on the wrong side of these pins a couple of times.”
McDowell still believe 280 will be close to the winning score and therefore he’s targeting 137 over the weekend.
“Level par is not going to be far away at the end of this week and three over through two rounds, I can legitimately get myself back to level over the weekend, continuing to play the way I am playing.”
Asked if he was playing well enough to do that, he didn’t hesitate.
“Yes, it’s really close,” he said. “My game is bubbling under the surface. I am going into this weekend with some good thoughts. I think I can compete. I obviously need a two or three under par round to get within touching distance.”
The winner of the US Open at a hard and fast Pebble Beach in 2010 and second at Olympic Club in 2012, McDowell wants the course to dry out quickly so that the leaders do not move further ahead.
“I need it to be firm,” he said. “The course has actually stood up to the rain incredibly well. Even this afternoon the course was two feet quicker on the greens. Those pins out there are going to be interesting. The pin on one. Bruce Koepka putted it off the green on one from just off the green. Geoff Ogilvy putted it off the green from 20 feet short on one.
“I actually feel they got a little frisky with the pins because of the conditions. I feel it is drying out quicker and it is going to be interesting. But I am going to need tough conditions on the weekend if I am to contend and level is to win.”