By Phil Casey, PA Golf Correspondent, Brookline
History was on Rory McIlroy’s side as he went into the third round of the US Open firmly in contention for a fifth major title and first since 2014.
Yet the same could be said for some formidable opponents in the shape of two-time major winner Collin Morikawa and defending champion Jon Rahm.
McIlroy recovered from a double bogey on the third hole in round two to card a 69 and halfway total of four under par, one shot off the lead shared by Open champion Morikawa and fellow American Joel Dahmen.
Star power heading into the weekend ⭐
All within 4 shots of the lead. pic.twitter.com/AfxTwFu0rO
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) June 18, 2022
Rahm, Hayden Buckley, Aaron Wise and Beau Hossler were alongside McIlroy in third place and, statistically at least, in the strongest position to end up lifting the trophy at Brookline on Sunday evening.
That is because 25 of the last 26 US Open winners were tied sixth or better after 36 holes, with Webb Simpson the lone exception when he came from six shots behind and joint 29th at The Olympic Club in 2012.
Masters champion and world number one Scottie Scheffler was just two shots off the lead in a five-strong group on three under, albeit in a tie for eighth.
Despite having won the Open last year and the US PGA Championship in 2020, Morikawa held a share of the halfway lead in a major for the first time as he looked to create history with a third victory in just his 11th start.
Since the first Masters was held in 1934 the fastest any player has got to three major wins is 12 starts, the late Australian Peter Thomson doing so courtesy of his hat-trick of Open titles from 1954-56.
A victory this weekend would also give Morikawa the third leg of the career grand slam and leave him, like McIlroy, needing to win the Masters to join Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Ben Hogan and Gene Sarazen in golf’s most prestigious club.
There was at least some good news for fans of the likes of Dahmen, Buckley, Wise and Hossler, who could take heart from the 1995 US Open at Shinnecock Hills, the last time the world’s top three were all in the top 10 at halfway.
Greg Norman, Nick Price and Nick Faldo were the men in question on that occasion but none of them went on to win, Corey Pavin coming from six shots behind at halfway to finish two ahead of Norman.
Sixty-four players had made the halfway cut at three over par, with Ireland’s Shane Lowry and Ryder Cup team-mate Sergio Garcia among those to miss out by a single shot.
Lowry found himself on the wrong side of the draw, with those playing early on Thursday and late on Friday averaging 1.6 strokes lower than the other half of the field.
And the 2019 Open champion was not impressed to see some of the greens apparently being watered during play on Friday, writing “In what stratosphere is this fair @usga” over an Instagram image of staff spraying the 13th green.
Those who did make the cut were separated by just eight shots and no doubt all still eyeing the record first prize of $3.15 million, $850,000 less than the individual winner’s cheque in last week’s first LIV Golf event at Centurion Club.