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Fowler rides rollercoaster to US Open lead; McIlroy lurks

Defending champ Fitzpatrick aces 15th at US Open

LOS ANGELES: Rickie Fowler got off to a blistering start then held on tight as Los Angeles Country Club struck back on Friday, taking a one-shot lead at the US Open in search of his first major championship. The former world number four, had eight birdies and six bogeys in his two-under-par 68 for a 10-under total of 130. Wyndham Clark carded a three-under-par 67 for 131 and was one stroke in front of Xander Schauffele and Rory McIlroy, who had six birdies in his last nine holes on the way to a 67 that left the Northern Ireland star poised to strike at the weekend for a fifth major title and his first in nine years.

Fowler set a US Open low-round record of 62 on Thursday that was matched by Schauffele as misty weather made for benign conditions on the LA Country Club North Course. With the course playing longer and firming up fast once the sun broke through in the afternoon, Fowler picked up right where he left off with three straight birdies to open his round. His ability to keep the birdies flowing – his 18 over 36 holes is another US Open record – let him overcome three three-putts, one from just off the green at the 11th which he answered with a 23-foot birdie at the 12th.

“The birdies are out there if you put yourself in the right position, but as you can see, bogeys are very easy to make,” Fowler said. “You hit fairways and hit greens, yes, you can score well, but you get out of position and it’s going to eat you up.” Fowler managed to bounce back from his mistakes when he needed to. After a three-putt at 13 he rolled in a birdie putt from inside eight feet at the par-three 15th. Unable to get up and down from a greenside bunker at 16, he responded with his final birdie of the day at 17.

Fowler, once tipped as likely to win multiple majors, missed the past two US Opens as he remained mired in a slump that saw him drop to 185th in the world. “I’m looking forward to the weekend,” he said. “It’s been a while since I’ve felt this good in a tournament, let alone a major.” But Fowler cautioned that the 36-hole lead “means nothing.” “(It’s) a little different once you get to after 54 holes because that’s when things really heat up,” he said. Clark is hoping to get a taste of that challenge after putting himself in a strong position in a bid for a first major – a month after he broke through for his first PGA Tour title at Quail Hollow.

McIlroy, meanwhile, will be aiming to keep the pedal down after a searing finish to his round that got off to a rocky start with three bogeys and a birdie in his first nine holes. DJ battles back Four birdies in his last five holes included a tap-in at his final hole, the par-three ninth, where his tee shot nearly went in. Schauffele’s challenge was in trouble after three straight bogeys at 13, 14 and 15, but he closed with birdies at 17 and 18 and signed for an even-par 70 to join McIlroy on 132. “It was big, just to keep myself in touch,” Schauffele said of his birdie-birdie finish. Harris English was alone in fifth after a 66 for 133. Two-time major-winner Dustin Johnson remarkably headed a group on 134 despite a quadruple bogey eight at the par-four second hole.

Johnson was in a fairway bunker off the tee and entangled in a barranca on the way to his big number, but had five birdies and a bogey to wrestle his way to an even par 70. He was joined on six under with Australian Min Woo Lee, who had six birdies in an impressive five-under-par 65. “Definitely proud of the way I came back and finished off the round,” Johnson said. World number one Scottie Scheffler carded a two-under par 68 to share eighth place with Sam Bennett on 135. British Open champion Cameron Smith was alone in 10th after a 67 for 136. But there was frustration for a few other marquee players. Brooks Koepka was even par through 36 holes.

Defending champion Matt Fitzpatrick had the excitement of a hole in one at the 15th — but his even par 70 left him one-over par. Masters champion Jon Rahm’s opening eagle was a lone bright spot in a three-over-par 73 that saw him make the cut on the number at two-over par. Notable names who didn’t make it included Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth, and six-time US Open runner-up Phil Mickelson. Defending champ The hole-in-one count kept climbing Friday at the US Open, where defending champion Matt Fitzpatrick aced the 120-yard par-three 15th in the second round. England’s Fitzpatrick became the third player in two days to notch a hole in one at one of Los Angeles Country Club’s more intriguing holes after France’s Matthieu Pavon and American Sam Burns did so on Thursday.

Fitzpatrick notched his first hole in one as a professional, and became the first defending champion to ace a hole at the US Open. Fitzpatrick didn’t see his tee shot at 15 spin into the cup, although he felt it was “dead center” coming off his sand wedge. He was alerted by the roar from the gallery and let out a yell himself, high-fiving playing partners Cameron Smith and Sam Bennett. “My hand was a bit sore afterward, I’ll be honest, after all the high fiving,” Fitzpatrick said. The eagle helped ensure that Fitzpatrick will play the weekend. After an even par second round, he was one-over for the tournament with the cutline projected at two-over.- AFP

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