The State of the Supergroup and the Value of Variety

From Rory McIlroy to Scottie Scheffler to Bryson DeChambeau to Tiger Woods, there is a lot to talk about from the second round of the U.S. Open


This piece originally appeared in the Fried Egg Golf newsletter. Subscribe for free and receive golf news and insight every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. For more coverage of the U.S. Open, visit our U.S. Open hub here.

Mixed bag for the supergroup

By Andy Johnson

The USGA grouped the top-three players in the Official World Golf Rankings together for the first two rounds at Pinehurst #2. The trio posted a mixed bag of results, with Rory McIlroy thriving, Xander Schauffele in the mix, and Scottie Scheffler looking out of sorts by his standards. Having followed this group for the vast majority of the last two days, here are some notes on each.

Rory McIlroy (-3) T-6

Much like last year, Rory McIlroy has reveled in the challenge presented by this year’s U.S. Open host, finding himself squarely in the mix after rounds of 65-72. McIlroy’s play on Friday was not quite as sharp as Thursday, particularly on the greens, and his score reflected it. But when he’s been on, McIlroy’s strong play has been rooted in a few key attributes that have helped him tame Pinehurst #2.

McIlroy’s driving has been spectacular. He’s varied his trajectories and shapes with the driver to fit what the hole calls for. At points on Friday his tee shots were 30+ yards ahead of Scheffler’s. While he has used the driver to his advantage, he’s also played smart where it’s been called for, throttling back and valuing the fairway for much of Pinehurst’s front nine. After the round, McIlroy said, “…with irons you can aim down one side of the fairway or the other to try to give yourself better angles to these pins.” 

Finding fairways with regularity has set up McIlroy’s iron play, which has also been strong. What has stood out the most is how smart his approach play has been. McIlroy has only taken on flags from advantageous positions, often content with finding middles of greens and avoiding the risky edges at Pinehurst. It’s led to a plethora of opportunities and minimal high-stress situations.

When he has missed greens, his short game has been nothing short of sensational. He’s chipped in on two occasions and has converted several no-sweat, up-and-down saves.

McIlroy’s ball-striking is there, but his success this weekend will center around whether he can convert some of the longer putts he’s been content to have. Much like last year’s U.S. Open, he’s primed to be a factor late on Sunday, and he has a real shot to earn his first major in 10 years.

Xander Schauffele (-1) T-9

Coming off his first major title at last month’s PGA Championship, Xander Schauffele has shown flashes of brilliance throughout the first two days. Friday’s nine-hole stretch from No. 13 to No. 3 (having started on the back) was sensational. Xander racked up birdie opportunity after birdie opportunity, converting five of them during the run. He hit a speed bump on the fifth, foiled by a poor tee shot and then making a mess of things in the waste area left of the green. Perhaps pace of play derailed Schauffele, as he had to wait upwards of 20 minutes on the tee before uncorking a hard pull that only traveled 184 yards. Xander is still in the championship, but he has to be kicking himself for the double bogey at the gettable fifth. He will need to play near perfect golf on the weekend to win his second consecutive major.

Scottie Scheffler (+5) T-57

From the moment he showed up on the first tee with a fresh haircut, Scheffler has looked out of sorts at Pinehurst. His tan line was exposed, yes, but for the first time in 2024 his game was exposed as well. Golf has a funny way of knocking you down at the moment you least expect, and this week will go down as a humbling one for the world’s undisputed best player. It’s a cautionary tale for anyone who declared golf “easy” for Scheffler these past few months. Golf is never easy, he just made it look that way. Scottie’s struggles have centered around two areas: off the tee and on the green. He’s been absolutely dreadful in both categories, at least by his own lofty standards.

The degree of his off-the-tee struggles was surprising. At multiple points he clubbed down to iron, yet still couldn’t find the fairway. After his round on Friday, Scheffler bemoaned Pinehurst #2’s sandy waste areas and the “luck of the draw” they present. It gives a lens into the factor on which most Tour pros thrive: predictability. While it’s impossible to draw a real conclusion, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Scheffler’s struggles off the tee coincided with a course that presented more unpredictable outcomes for poor shots.

Scheffler will play the weekend, making the cut on the number. But he’ll just be contending for a back-door, yellow-box Wikipedia top 10. He’s had an incredible run of golf, at a level so high he could really only come back down to earth. It’s just surprising it happened at a course so seemingly suited for his game.

The value of variety

By Joseph LaMagna 

Another U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2, another tournament with a wide array of skill sets near the top and the bottom of the leaderboard. It’s a golf course that lets you play your game. Pinehurst No. 2 encourages a unique blend of conservatism and aggression, a sentiment that’s been expressed by many players in the field this week. In his pre-tournament presser, Viktor Hovland talked about how he planned to be aggressive off the tee, citing the opportunity you have to catch a decent lie even in the native areas that line the fairways. Following Rory McIlroy’s Friday round, he talked about having a “very conservative strategy off the tee” and chasing angles in the fairways with irons off tees. There’s a diversity of strategies being employed by the best players in the world this week, a refreshing departure from the homogeneity we’re accustomed to watching week in and week out in professional golf.

Tom Kim, an accurate, well-rounded golfer whose primary weakness is a lack of power, sits at T-9 through 36 holes. At the par-4 seventh hole on Friday, Kim got relatively aggressive off the tee, hitting a 275-yard tee shot down the left side of the fairway. That’s nine yards longer than the field-average driving distance on the seventh hole today. His aggression was rewarded, as he hit a short iron to less than two feet and made birdie. In the next group, Rory McIlroy opted for a more conservative strategy off the seventh tee, hitting a 236-yard iron that ultimately led to a routine par. With two completely different strategies in nearly identical conditions, both Kim and McIlroy walked off the seventh green gaining strokes on the field. You won’t find many holes on the PGA Tour where Tom Kim hits his tee shot 40 yards past Rory McIlroy yet each player is still satisfied with their respective strategy and execution.

Players seem to be appreciating the cerebral nature of Pinehurst No. 2. After his second round, Tom Kim said, “I think it’s a fun course to play, as mentally tough as it is, because there’s just some holes where normally, U.S. Open, you think about long rough, long golf courses. But this week it’s still kind of playing long, but there’s no rough and there’s just waste areas.

“For me, I’ve been doing a really good job of just kind of positioning myself consistently, doing the right things, missing in the right spots. I think that’s what this golf course brings out of you.”

Not every hole has dimensions like the seventh that can elicit a variety of strategies off the tee. But every shot on the golf course gives players something to think about, from the tee until the ball is holed. The golf course is undoubtedly a grind, but there are thoughtful grinds and there are thoughtless grinds. Pinehurst No. 2 is the former.

Other Friday notes

We loved Sahith’s shot so much that it beat out what would normally be a lock shot of the day: Francesco Molinari acing No. 9 (his final hole) to make the cut on the number.

The off-the-pin ricochet shot is a unique bad break, especially when it results in a complete rejection, as happened to Straka. Like a kicker hitting the upright. That’s a tough way to make triple, but the rub of the green has a way of evening out, as Straka demonstrated by acing No. 9.

Tony Finau is having another strong major showing, including this long birdie putt from off the green (a solid weekend drinking game could center around “birdie putt from off the green”, and by solid we mean deadly) at 12. He’s also within striking distance of the lead.

Rory putted off the green on No. 17, then salvaged par with the rare reverse one-putt. Remember that sequence if he’s in contention on Sunday. He ground out a 72 today in tougher conditions, and his performance Saturday will be fascinating.

While he struggled on 17, Rory did play No. 5 better than the rest of his group. The top-three players in the world all struggled on the par 5, with the alliterative duo of Scheffler and Schauffele each posting double. McIlroy escaped with par, but none of them were able to conquer this particular sand shot short of the green.

When Kansas University golfer Gunnar Broin stood over a tricky up-and-over chip shot behind the green on No. 8 (his second-to-last hole of the day), he had to know he was around the eventual cut line. At four-over par, every remaining stroke was precious. So, why not just go ahead and make it? The local qualifier is not close to the top amateur rankings, as noted by Monday Q Info. But today Broin shot 68 at the U.S. Open, and he’ll play the weekend.

Playing his first career major, friend of Fried Egg Golf Justin Lower displayed his own short-game creativity with this bump-and-run make. Hey, it’s like a course that encourages fun shots makes for a fun tournament. Lower proceeded to make 13 straight pars to make the cut on the number.

Notable missed cuts

Tiger never stopped grinding, making a birdie at No. 4 en route to a respectable front-nine 36. Unfortunately his opening round didn’t leave him much margin for error, and a faltering return nine saw him miss out.

Viktor Hovland rebounded for a 68 today, but it wasn’t enough to make the weekend after his disastrous opening 78.

Max Homa had the opposite problem to Hovland, opening with a 71 and then shooting 75 today.

Phil Mickelson was…here? Sort of? He made no birdies in two rounds, shot 79-76, and seems like a guy who would rather be doing anything else. The opposite of Tiger, who looks like he’d give anything to have a body that worked.

Justin Thomas went 77-74 and crashed out. JT hasn’t made a cut at a non-PGA major since 2022.

Other notable names slamming their trunks:  

Dustin Johnson, Will Zalatoris, Rickie Fowler, Robert MacIntyre, Justin Rose, Jason Day

This piece originally appeared in the Fried Egg Golf newsletter. Subscribe for free and receive golf news and insight every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. For more coverage of the U.S. Open, visit our U.S. Open hub here.