Dave Tindall looks back to the last 10 US Opens for clues on how the final 36 holes will unravel at Chambers Bay...
"Crucially, he knows how to win and it’s worth noting that South Africans are good at landing majors at a young age (Ernie Els, Charl Schwartzel and Louis Oosthuizen had all made the big breakthrough at 27 or younger and Grace is 27 now)."
It's all set for a thrilling weekend at Chambers Bay and we all have our personal favourites from here on in. But can history help us decide who is the best bet heading into the weekend?
For the last ten US Opens, the winner's halfway position is listed, along with how many shots they were behind the lead or leading by.
2014 Martin Kaymer 1st (leader by 6 shots)
2013 Justin Rose 3rd (1 shot behind)
2012 Webb Simpson 29th (6 shots behind)
2011 Rory McIlroy 1st (leader by 6 shots)
2010 Graeme McDowell 1st (leader by 2 shots)
2009 Lucas Glover 2nd (1 shot behind)
2008 Tiger Woods 2nd (1 shot behind)
2007 Angel Cabrera 1st (leader by 1 shot)
2006 Geoff Ogilvy 3rd (2 shots behind)
2005 Michael Campbell 6th (2 shots behind)
Nine of the last ten winners were in the top 6 after 36 holes
Eight of the last ten winners were in the top 3 after 36 holes
Six of the last ten winners were in the top 2 after 36 holes
Six of the last ten halfway leaders/joint leaders DID NOT win
Nine of the last ten winners were either leading or no worse than two shots off the lead
Five of the last ten winners were either one or two shots behind
In other words, coming from off the pace in a US Open is incredibly hard to do when the course gets even tougher so if you've backed the likes of Rory McIlroy (nine back) or Phil Mickelson (eight back), forget it.
Here's how the top 10 have played so far...
Jordan Spieth (68-67=135)
"I struck the ball significantly better with my approach shots. I hit my irons and wedges better today than yesterday, I also putted better today. Still looking for that driver. I'll draw some on (my win at) Augusta, but at the same time my patience level has to be even that much higher. I'm not quite putting myself in the same positions off the tee, so I've got to be a little more methodical. At Augusta I was kind of finding fairways, hitting it on the green and I was making everything." Spieth is missing more fairways than he'd like (below field average) so will have to be careful he doesn't put the rest of his game under too much pressure. He's the one to beat but, since WWII, only Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Ben Hogan have won The Masters and the US Open in the same year.
Stats - DD: 299.2 (avg. 304.6), DA: 68% (avg. 73.8%), GIR: 75% (avg. 66.5%), Putts: 59 (avg. 65.5)
R3 scoring in 2015: 26th
R4 Scoring in 2015: 13th
Patrick Reed (66-69=135)
"I'm hitting my tee-shots pretty solid. I feel very confident with the driver. I feel like I can set up, swing almost as hard as I want to and it's going to be in the fairway. When you can play out of the fairway from here you've got chances. This afternoon it got really firm and really fast so if you didn't hit the fairways you're going to struggle to hold the greens." Reed and Spieth were also the USA's dynamic duo in the last Ryder Cup so, in theory, they should enjoy playing alongside each other in the final group on Saturday. Reed is a proven winner but it's worth noting that he's never been in this position in a major before. His stats look impressive even though he hasn't scrambled that well so far. Official stats are not available but Reed said on Friday: "I was zero percent on up-and-downs today."
Stats - DD: 309.7 (avg. 304.6), DA: 82% (avg. 73.8%), GIR: 81% (avg. 66.5%), Putts: 60 (avg. 65.5)
R3 scoring in 2015: 25th
R4 Scoring in 2015: 121st
Branden Grace (69-67=136)
"I've been playing well. I've had a good start to the season so far. The form has been good. I've been playing much better in the States and everything has been building up to something like this. And then again, I feel very comfortable on the links. I've had a couple of wins back in Europe on the links, and it's trying to stay patient and take the chances when they come your way." Grace has excellent tee-to-green figures so looks as if he's here to stay on the weekend. He also knows how to win so won't back off if he's still in contention on the back nine.
Stats - DD: 321.0 (avg. 304.6), DA: 82% (avg. 73.8%), GIR: 81% (avg. 66.5%), Putts: 63 (avg. 65.5)
R3 scoring in 2015: N/A (70 Wentworth, 73 Sawgrass, 66 Hilton Head last three)
R4 Scoring in 2015: N/A (69 Wentworth, 75 Sawgrass, 69 Hilton Head last three)
Dustin Johnson (65-71=136)
DJ made a big move on Saturday in the third round of the 2010 US Open at Pebble Beach when he went from two behind to three in front via a 66. His problems came on Sunday. His R3 scoring average this year (1st) suggests we could see something similar. "I've got a good game plan out here," he said after Friday's 71. "I just need to stick to it. If I keep swinging well and keep putting well, I will be right there come Sunday." He's certainly putting well enough but hitting just 11 greens out of 18 in round two was below the field average and he'll need to sharpen that up.
Stats - DD: 332.5 (avg. 304.6), DA: 71% (avg. 73.8%), GIR: 69% (avg. 66.5%), Putts: 58 (avg. 65.5)
R3 scoring in 2015: 1st
R4 Scoring in 2015: 25th
Joost Luiten (68-69=137)
"I didn't make my birdie putts on the front nine and luckily on the back nine I managed to make a couple of good putts and keep the mistakes off the card. A 1-under score today, I'm very happy with that. I managed to play my game today, which is normally good iron play. And I think that's why I'm three-under because I didn't really go out of position that much."
Luiten's driving accuracy stats are great so, if he can keep that up as the course firms up on the weekend, he has a chance.
Stats - DD: 308.0 (avg. 304.6), DA: 89% (avg. 73.8%), GIR: 78% (avg. 66.5%), Putts: 62 (avg. 65.5)
R3 scoring in 2015: 50th
R4 Scoring in 2015: 128th
Tony Finau (69-68=137)
"If you hit the ball far, if you can fly it far and hit it with some length, I think it sets up pretty good for you," said Finau after his second straight round in the 60s. The big-hitting American is also benefitting from the extra local knowledge brought by his caddie, who grew up ten miles from the course. "It's been a huge asset to me so far this week."
Finau is finding lots of fairways but his greens in regulation stats are below the field average and that, combined with his lack of experience at this level, has to put a question mark over his victory chances.
Stats - DD: 318.5 (avg. 304.6), DA: 82% (avg. 73.8%), GIR: 64% (avg. 66.5%), Putts: 59 (avg. 65.5)
R3 scoring in 2015: 106th
R4 Scoring in 2015: 24th
Daniel Summerhays (70-67=137)
Like Finau, Luiten and Grace, Summerhays has never won on the PGA Tour so making this his first victory would be a pretty incredible achievement. After his Friday 67, Summerhays said: "I played really good golf today. I hit a lot of really solid iron shots, drove it pretty well for the most part, except for seven and eight. I love this place. It's so beautiful here."
We've seen him up there before and go backwards on the weekend so there are obvious negatives against him with 36 to play.
Stats - DD: 301.2 (avg. 304.6), DA: 71% (avg. 73.8%), GIR: 78% (avg. 66.5%), Putts: 62 (avg. 65.5)
R3 scoring in 2015: 73rd
R4 Scoring in 2015: 93rd
Ben Martin (67-70=137)
His tee-to-green stats are superb. Martin is beating the field by over 15% in driving accuracy and nearly 20% in greens in regulation. He's slightly ahead on putting too although he needs to sink a few more. His post-round quotes on Friday back it all up. "Played solid most of the day. Drove the ball well. I could have made a couple more putts, but good shape going into the weekend. I got here last Friday, so I've been out here for a week getting to know the course. I played most of my practice rounds in the afternoon, so I got to know the course a little bit better in the afternoon."
He also has excellent R3 and R4 stats this year so Martin looks a very interesting contender.
Stats - DD: 294.0 (avg. 304.6), DA: 89% (avg. 73.8%), GIR: 86% (avg. 66.5%), Putts: 65 (avg. 65.5)
R3 scoring in 2015: 9th
R4 Scoring in 2015: 13th
Jamie Lovemark (70-68=138)
Lovemark had an impressive amateur career but this is his first major. "I'm playing nice, driving it well. I had a decent touch around the greens. I had three three-putts yesterday, but I think that's going to happen in the afternoon, the greens get bumpy. I feel good about the game, mentally I'm in a good spot too. I'm not too nervous, and I was playing aggressive, and that's the way to play. It's a huge benefit carrying it 290, 300 yards. I'm hitting it high, hitting pretty far and decently straight, so it's a good fit."
Lovemark, of course, plays on the Web.com Tour but has finished T8 and T14 on his last two starts. "I've been playing well in what I've been playing. So I had good form coming in here. I expected to play well."
Stats - DD: 300.2 (avg. 304.6), DA: 79% (avg. 73.8%), GIR: 67% (avg. 66.5%), Putts: 58 (avg. 65.5)
R3 scoring in 2015: N/A
R4 Scoring in 2015: N/A (75th on Web.Com R4 scoring)
J.B. Holmes (72-66=138)
"Good round for me. I left a few out there. I had a few too many bogeys, but I gave myself a lot of opportunities and I felt like I putted well. I missed a couple short ones, but they're getting a little crusty out there. Overall it was a good day for me. I think definitely you can take advantage with length here, because the golf course is so long. But you've got to hit it in the fairway, too. Long and in the weeds doesn't help you."
He's done a good job of it so far but his weekend scoring stats this year are poor which counts against him.
Stats - DD: 316.2 (avg. 304.6), DA: 86% (avg. 73.8%), GIR: 69% (avg. 66.5%), Putts: 59 (avg. 65.5)
R3 scoring in 2015: 119th
R4 Scoring in 2015: 142nd
Jason Day (68-70=138)
It was distressing to see Day collapse to the floor on his final hole after suffering from vertigo. Unfortunately, that has to cast a huge doubt over his chances on a Chambers Bay course which is a demanding walk and has so many severe undulations. If Day was fully fit, he'd obviously have a big chance although his tee-to-green stats aren't as strong as those around him.
Stats - DD: 335.7 (avg. 304.6), DA: 71% (avg. 73.8%), GIR: 69% (avg. 66.5%), Putts: 60 (avg. 65.5)
R3 scoring in 2015: 45th
R4 Scoring in 2015: 9th
History suggests that, unless you have a huge lead (Kaymer, McIlroy), the ideal place to be for a U.S. Open winner after 36 holes is just off the lead in terms of both places and shots.
And with Jordan Spieth, Patrick Reed and Dustin Johnson taking up such a big chunk of the market, there look to be too legitimate, value plays - Branden Grace (T3, one back) and Ben Martin (T5, two behind).
Grace is north of 80% in both driving accuracy and greens in regulation and is also giving it a big tonk off the tee.
Crucially, he knows how to win and it's worth noting that South Africans are good at landing majors at a young age (Ernie Els, Charl Schwartzel and Louis Oosthuizen had all made the big breakthrough at 27 or younger and Grace is 27 now).
The Springboks also have a good record in this major (Els and Goosen have four between them).
Martin, also 27, won on the PGA Tour in Las Vegas last October while he was a dual champ on the Web.Com Tour in 2013.
He was also fourth in elite company at the Players Championship last month and added another top 10 at Colonial two starts ago.
Add in the fact that he got to the course early this week and has excellent weekend scoring stats in 2015 and his appeal grows significantly.
With four each-way places on offer (1/5 odds), Grace and Martin make plenty of appeal.
Best in-play bets after 36 holes