The cream rose to the top on day two of the US Open as a quartet of major champions defied predictions of Brookline turning “nasty”.
Open champion Collin Morikawa led the way on five under par after a superb second round of 66, with reigning US Open champion Jon Rahm and four-time major winner Rory McIlroy a shot behind.
Masters champion Scottie Scheffler was part of the group another stroke back, with England’s Matt Fitzpatrick three off the pace on two under.
McIlroy had been in danger of falling out of contention when he covered the front nine in 36, the world number three needing three attempts to hack on to the green from thick rough on the third, before holing from 23 feet to salvage a double bogey.
But after dropping a shot on the 10th, McIlroy picked up shots on the 12th, 14th and 17th to remain firmly in the hunt for his fifth major title and first since the 2014 US PGA.
Scheffler was two over after seven holes but then birdied the eighth and 13th, holed out from 55 yards for eagle on the par-five 14th and picked up another shot on the 16th in his bid for an amazing fifth win in 2022.
“I just stayed really patient,” Scheffler said. “I was hitting it good pretty much most of the day. Two silly bogeys early in the round, but outside of that I hit it really good.
“If a few more putts would have fallen in versus (running) around the edge, it would have been a really special day. But three under was a good score for me, especially being two over through six.”
Speaking about his eagle on the 14th, Scheffler added: “I hit a great drive down the middle and then had kind of a funny lie where it was sitting on a downslope and it made that shot into the green much harder.
“I caught it a hair thin and hit the tree. Fortunately it didn’t hit the tree and come backwards, it kind of just fell down in front of it. Had a good lie and hit a good chip and it went in.”
“I played really, really well,” said Fitzpatrick, who was fifth in the US PGA last month. “Three of my four bogeys were three-putts, so that kind of sums up the day.
“Felt like I hit the ball tee to green really, really good. I think I hit one chip shot all day, so that kind of summarizes how well I felt like I hit it.
“I feel like I’ve left a couple out there, which to say in a US Open is pretty rare, but it is positive going into the weekend.”
But with a blustery wind helping to dry out the course, six-time major winner Nick Faldo predicted conditions would continue to get tougher over the weekend.
“It really is nasty, gusty, blustery, and there are some really tough holes,” Faldo, who lost a play-off to Curtis Strange in the 1988 US Open at Brookline, said after completing commentary duties for American broadcaster CBS.
“To be honest anybody in red numbers will be very happy and in a great spot. It’s only going to get tougher. They can let this course go and it could be really tough.”
South African qualifier MJ Daffue had reached six under earlier in the day when he holed from 80 feet on the seventh, only to play his last eight holes in five over.
World number eight Viktor Hovland had been just a shot off the lead after two early birdies, but bogeyed six holes in a row around the turn and dropped three more shots on the closing stretch to shoot a dispiriting 77.