U.S. Open: Questions heading into Friday's second round

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. — The long days of the Pacific Coast mean that the U.S. Open starts early and ends late, and all 156 players in the field on Thursday enjoyed one of the easiest U.S. Open days in recent memory. Round 2 starts about 11 hours after Round 1 wrapped up; let’s run through the main questions ahead of us

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Will the golf course remain this easy?

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Possibly! Thursday was one of the easiest days in U.S. Open history across the board, with 39 players scoring under par. (By contrast: the total number of players under par the last two times the Open was here? One, Tiger Woods in 2000.)

The USGA, stung by years of criticism over how it’s set up U.S. Open courses, opted for a less-is-more approach this week, hoping for Pebble Beach’s natural defenses — wind and tiny greens — to take care of business. So it left the greens pillow-soft and as welcoming as your grandmother at Thanksgiving.

If the sun comes out — and this is the Monterey peninsula, literally any kind of weather is on the table — and the wind starts blowing, Pebble Beach is going to find its teeth and most of those 39 under par are going to end up as chum. If not ... well, the USGA might start releasing dragons or something.

<a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/pga/players/20980/" data-ylk="slk:Aaron Wise">Aaron Wise</a>, one stroke off the lead after Day 1, sizes up a putt at Pebble Beach. (Getty)
Aaron Wise, one stroke off the lead after Day 1, sizes up a putt at Pebble Beach. (Getty)

Who’s got the edge among the leaders?

Justin Rose finished with a 65, the lowest round in Pebble Beach’s U.S. Open history, tied with Tiger Woods’ 65 in the first round of the 2000 Open. Rose is one of those guys who ought to have more majors than he does (1), and it’s clear he’s got the game to stay clear of the field, if not run away from it.

One stroke behind Rose are three non-major-winning Americans in Rickie Fowler, Xander Schauffele and Aaron Wise, as well as British Open champion Louis Oosthuizen. Fowler, in particular, really really needs that first major, and the fact he hasn’t played himself out of contention yet is a good sign.

Lurking another couple strokes down the leaderboard: Rory McIlroy, Henrik Stenson and Francesco Molinari, among others, who have success in their history.

And then there’s you-know-who. No, not him. HIM.

What will Brooks Koepka do?

Stomp the world into kindling, most likely. Koepka, the two-time defending U.S. Open (and two-time defending PGA Championship) champion, is in the absolute hot zone now, and Thursday he posted a lurking 2-under 69 that could have been at least five strokes better. Koepka’s a bit constrained by the smaller relative size of Pebble, but if he can tighten up his putting, he’s going to be holding a third one of these trophies in a couple days.

How’s Tiger Woods playing?

Decent! And that’s not the faint-praise way to play, slugger of past years. Woods finished with a 1-under 70, not great but not hope-killing, either. Plus, he poured in several long putts — two over 22 feet — and seemed more in control of his game than he was at the PGA Championship. He’s got work to do to get back in serious contention, but if he’s putting well, those red numbers can start flying.

Who else is worth watching?

The cut line at the U.S. Open is the top 60 and ties, no within-10-shots rule. That means Jordan Spieth (+1), Phil Mickelson (+1) and Justin Thomas (+2) all will begin Friday worrying about the cut line, which currently sits at +1. This is Mickelson’s latest chance to get the final jewel in his career Grand Slam; he’s been a runner-up at this event an astounding six times. And Spieth is potentially rounding back into form after a rough two winless years, though he and his caddy had some terse words during Thursday’s round.

For the full list of tee times, which begin rolling at 6:45 a.m. Pacific time, tap here.

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Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at jay.busbee@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter or on Facebook.

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