What about Rory McIlroy, the four-time major winner and the second-ranked golfer worldwide?
He was worse, five over par and also ineligible for the weekend rounds.
Surely, that leaves Jason Day, the world No. 3.
Not a chance. Day finished at 10 over par, 17 strokes off the lead.
It was the first time since the world golf rankings were established in the mid-1980s that the top three ranked players each missed the cut in a major championship.
Asked to explain it, Johnson answered: “I don’t know. I couldn’t have shot any higher. It’s not possible to shoot higher.”
A world of recreational golfers would disagree with that assessment, but it is undoubtedly a mystifying quirk of this year’s Open that a golf course that had been welcoming to so many competitors, including two amateurs who made the cut, spat out the top three players in the world.
It turned away three other golfers in the top 10: sixth-ranked Henrik Stenson finished at three over; eighth-ranked Alex Noren was six over; and Jon Rahm, ranked 10th, finished at five over.
All the upheaval prompted a question that lingered at the tournament’s halfway point: Is this really a United States Open?
The vanquished big names will not be able to return, but some normalcy might. Unless the rain showers forecast for Saturday intensify and greatly soften Erin Hills, the greens and fairways are beginning to dry out. That could lead to typical Open weekend conditions, meaning putting surfaces that are devilish, confusing and unforgiving.
“I fully expect by Sunday that the conditions will be wicked,” Casey said. “And I want it that way. That’s how this tournament finds a champion.”
It was Casey who had the most up-and-down, intriguing second round among the four leaders. He started Friday one stroke behind the first-round leader, Rickie Fowler. But it did not take Casey long to tumble almost entirely off the leaderboard.
Starting his round on the 10th tee, Casey played the first four holes in even par, then made a triple-bogey 8 on the par-5 14th hole.
“I remember saying to myself, ‘Well, you made a mess of that start,’” Casey later said.
Casey bogeyed the 15th hole to compound his problems but then steadied himself with a par on the 16th.
“I really was O.K. mentally; I was calm,” Casey said. “You’re not going to play a U.S. Open without getting knocked around or knocked down. It’s whether you get up.”
Casey’s responded with five successive birdies, from the 17th hole to the third. He was in such a zone that he apparently did not notice the streak he had built.
After his round, he was asked if he knew that the United States Open record for consecutive birdies was six, since, as a reporter said, he had five in a row.
Replied Casey: “Five in a row of what?”
Koepka had begun the day only two strokes off the lead and played steadily, with four birdies and just two bogeys, to shoot a 70. Fleetwood had almost an identical round and also shot a 70. Harman also shot a 70, but with one bogey fewer and one birdie fewer.
Fowler had a scary stretch where he bogeyed three successive holes, but he rallied to a respectable 73 and dropped to six under, one stroke back. He was tied with J. B. Holmes and Jamie Lovemark.
The most impressive round of the day belonged to Hideki Matsuyama, who is also the highest-ranked golfer still playing in the event. Matsuyama had seven birdies to go along with 11 pars. He missed an 8-foot putt on his last hole, which would have tied Johnny Miller’s record of eight under par, which is the lowest score relative to par for a single round in the Open.
Afterward, Matsuyama was asked if he knew he had been close to tying the record.
“No, I didn’t,” he answered. “I thought 63 was the number.”
Matsuyama has never finished higher than tied for 10th at the Open, but he is one of the hottest golfers in the world this season and has two victories on the PGA Tour.
And he is the fourth-ranked golfer in the world, which as of Friday night at Erin Hills took on special import.
Like Johnson, Day did not have much of an explanation for what had gone wrong with his two rounds. After shooting a 79 in the first round, Day came out Friday and made three birdies in his first six holes. But the rally was short-lived. Day collapsed with three bogeys and a double bogey in his final eight holes to close with a 75.
“I hit my driver into the tall, hay grass too often to make good scores,” Day said, adding with a smile: “I liked the golf course; it’s beautiful. I enjoyed the walk around it.”
McIlroy shot a 78 on Thursday, and while he rallied with a 71 Friday, it was not enough to keep him around for the weekend.
Injuries have limited McIlroy’s practice and competition rounds recently, and his putting seems to have suffered the most. He switched putters trying to find a new feel on the Erin Hills greens.
“But I don’t think it was the putter in this tournament — it was the guy on the end of it,” McIlroy said. “I’m holing putts on the practice green, but it’s a different kettle of fish when you get out on the course.”
An earlier version of a picture caption with this article misstated Rory McIlroy’s score. He was five over par, not six over par.
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