Ben Coley reflects on the first two days of the US Open before revealing a pair of selections for the third round.
At the halfway stage of the 119th US Open, leader Gary Woodland is on nine-under-par after a bogey-free 65 in round two. Before this week, only Tiger Woods had carded a round of 65 at a US Open here. In two days, he's been joined not only by Woodland, but by Justin Rose, now in second place.
The USGA can do nothing about the weather, and the absence of anything like a proper, Pacific Ocean breeze is the primary reason that 26 players enter the weekend under-par. In the two previous US Opens held here since the year 2000, only one man has beaten par for the week: Tiger Woods, in that turn-of-the-century performance many consider to be the best in the history of the sport.
Woods was eight-under at halfway that week, another record which has been lost to this evolving sport. A decade after he won by 15, Graeme McDowell won by one in a battle of the plodders and the plotters, yet now we have a leaderboard - another leaderboard - populated by some of the biggest, strongest players in golf. There's no escaping them.
In fairness, it is not Woodland's strength which has got him to where he is, rather a putter which completed the job with a 50-foot birdie at the ninth. Yet there can be no denying that Pebble Beach is playing longer and softer than it is really meant to play, and that the likes of Chez Reavie, Matt Kuchar and Jim Furyk are facing an uphill battle to keep pace.
The USGA might have been scared into this. It's just a year, after all, since Phil Mickelson's nonsense at Shinnecock, an unbecoming protest against fast greens, bustled them back into the spotlight. It's hard to blame the organisers for wanting the players to do the talking this time. Player power in golf is stronger than in virtually any other sport and these modern monsters have got what they wanted.
Not that any of this denies us a rip-roaring weekend and at 9/2 the field, that looks the only good-thing from here. Woodland might lead by two but he is not favourite and nor, quite, is Rose. Instead, that honour goes to Rory McIlroy, lurking four adrift after what might prove to be a prescient recovery from disaster in round two when, having made an almighty mess of the par-five 14th, he got both shots back immediately.
McIlroy is no US Open specialist, despite winning it in 2011, but the combination of soft conditions and his game having returned a week before this tournament began could be a deadly one. When his confidence is up, few are as tantalising - and that includes double-defending champion Brooks Koepka, just a shot further back.
Those looking for a bet at this stage must consider McIlroy strongly. Woodland has limited albeit recent experience of this, having led going into the weekend at Bellerive in August, and he can't rely on that putter for another two rounds. The feeling is he'll prove vulnerable. Rose, too, has made everything in sight, and in the hope that conditions do become tougher it's those exuding long-game control who should come to the fore.
Woodland does rank fifth in greens hit, Koepka the only one of those mentioned ahead of him, but he'll need to produce the best golf of his life to top a leaderboard packed with credentials. Louis Oosthuizen, Adam Scott, Henrik Stenson, Francesco Molinari - there are more major winners tucked in behind a player whose fault is in not winning as often as he might.
McIlroy would be the bet from here but I'm going to wait and see how Saturday unfolds and instead advise a couple of small two-ball plays, starting with Viktor Hovland to beat Webb Simpson at 2/1.
Hovland has impressed out of a marquee three-ball with players who between them currently hold three of the four majors, and now he's safely through to the weekend can roll the dice in what's his final start as an amateur.
He was a little luckless on the greens in round two and can begin to climb the leaderboard and threaten the likes of Stenson and Molinari in the top continental European market, in which he's definitely still a live player from sixth place among the 12 to have made the weekend.
Simpson upped his game on Friday morning and isn't completely out of this tournament yet, but he's stone last in greens hit and while we're still waiting for this tournament to turn in favour of those building their scores from tee-to-green, surely it must this weekend.
Indeed, I expect the USGA to do what they can to keep the lead at single-digits and with Hovland leading the field in fairways - a mammoth effort given how hard he hits the ball - he may be better placed to get to pins which will surely be tucked away.
As an aside, it'll be fascinating to see what price he starts the Travelers Championship on his professional debut next week. Collin Morikawa, a player of comparable amateur achievements if not quite as good, was a 400/1 chance when he joined the paid ranks in Canada. We may not even see three figures about Hovland.
Back to the present and there are tempting options elsewhere but the banker of the day looks to be Louis Oosthuizen at 5/6 to beat Aaron Wise.
Yet again, Oosthuizen is in the mix at a major championship and while he's fallen out of contention at both the Masters and the PGA Championship this year, he's fancied to get things right this time and keep alive his hopes of joining Woods as a winner both at Pebble Beach and St Andrews.
Oosthuizen is driving the ball really well and looks better equipped at this stage to adapt to the expected change in scoring conditions, both he and Wise having so far made the most of things to card 11 birdies each - enough to lead the field.
Wise is clearly a huge talent, one who, like Oosthuizen, was in my staking plan for a major earlier in the season. Yet the suspicion is this first taste of a late weekend tee-time will be something to learn from, with proven, major-winning credentials preferred, certainly at the prices.
Posted at 0705 BST on 15/06/19.