Its Moving Day at the US Open but can the chasers cut into imperious Dustin Johnson's lead? Paul Krishnamurty says the leader remains worth taking on around a course where disaster lurks at every turn...
"Cabrera Bello's accurate approaches are tailor-made for Shinnecock and he's developing into a good performer in big events. The Spaniard's last six weekend rounds were all 70 or better."
Back Rafa Cabrera Bello 4u @ [2.0] (Starts 19.04) (vs Howell)
At halfway, the US Open is at a pivotal stage. With the world number one four shots clear and odds-on to win this major for a second time, the weekend could well turn into a dull procession. Equally though, just one costly mistake from Dustin Johnson could set up a mouthwatering finale to this championship.
Is Dustin due a disaster hole?
The reasons for Johnson's lead are straightforward. He's putted brilliantly and, critically, avoided the constant disasters lurking at Shinnecock Hills that have hurt most of his rivals. DJ has made only four (single) bogeys so far, whereas the only two players to challenge his lead yesterday both hit a triple-bogey. In addition to Ian Poulter and Russell Henley among the contenders, Rickie Fowler and Brooks Koepka have both hit at least one double.
Without detracting in any way from Dustin's imperious performance, the odds are he too will find disaster at some point. It only takes one errant drive, approach or, as Poulter demonstrated last night, a poor bunker shot. If anything like that happens early in tonight's round, this event will be transformed. Only five strokes separate the next 33 players, including numerous major champions and frontline contenders.
Leaders may have to cope with rising winds
That sort of transformation is precisely what Moving Day is all about and, without placing too much faith in weather forecasts after two days of unpredictability, it is encouraging from that perspective. According to Windfinder, the wind is due to get up in the afternoon and become quite a factor once the early starters have finished. Whether anyone out early can shoot low enough to make serious inroads is another matter. By my estimation, players need to be at +4 tonight to have any hope of winning.
Yesterday's outright bets - laying Johnson and Justin Rose - did not go to plan but I'm far from despondent. Betting odds-on at halfway is always very risky and, such is the quality of the chasing pack, I doubt he'll run away with it. In fact my next move is to double down and lay Dustin at [1.85]. That leaves exposure to a costly risk, as listed below, but hopefully there will at least be damage limitation opportunities via getting other contenders in the book. I'll update this plan before tomorrow's final round.
Updated In-Play Profit/Loss
Dustin Johnson: -26 units
Justin Rose: -7 units
All others: +21 units
Two-balls - A quartet of bets
Leaving any weather advantages aside, nothing has changed to alter my view that the key determinants of success at Shinnecock are accurate iron play, scrambling and holing par putts. None of that seems particularly favourable to a bomber like Gary Woodland, who has never been much of a scrambler and hasn't putted well for months. Despite doing really well to make the cut after an opening 79, he looks one to oppose and Stricker has a long pedigree of staying on through the field over a major weekend and rose from 55th at halfway to 16th in last year's US Open.
The 2012 champion fought back really well from poor starts in both rounds to date and is another fancied to make steady forward progress over the weekend. As this course dries out, scrambling will come ever more to the fore and Simpson is the best in that discipline over the past year. This opponent commands plenty of respect but Molinari has been moving in the opposite direction after starting well.
Placed in two of the last three US Opens and hotly tipped pre-tournament, Grace will be disappointed with his halfway position but is expected to register another decent finish by the end. A repeat of his transformative 66 on this day two years ago would do the trick. Walker hit two eagles last night to just about stay in touch but this somewhat erratic player is always liable to find trouble on this course.
Tied 11th is Howell's best ever halfway position in nine US Open appearances so at least a second top-30 finish in this major, if not bettering his personal best of 17th, is within range. That record demonstrates his lack of pedigree for this challenge, though, and hitting two over in the best conditions yesterday doesn't bode well. In contrast, Cabrera Bello's accurate approaches are tailor-made for Shinnecock and he's developing into a good performer in big events. The Spaniard's last six weekend rounds were all 70 or better.
Lay Dustin Johnson 7.5u @ [3.8]
Lay Justin Rose 3.5u @ [8.0]