Paul Casey was at 7 under after a 71 in the second round.
This year's U.S. Open, though, is taking that to another level. His withdrawal marked the end of a golfing era with the 117th U.S. Open becoming the first major to not include Mickelson and/or Tiger Woods since the 1994 Masters.
Garcia, who waited almost two decades to notch his first major title at Augusta, would be halfway to a calendar-year Grand Slam should he prevail at Erin Hills.
Casey finished his wild day with six straight pars for a 1-under 71 to set the target Friday. "I think you've got a lot of great players on top of that leaderboard and you've got some guys that hit it forward, some guys that putt it great, some guys that do everything pretty good".
"If you look at the golf course and you even talk to me, Jason or Rory, this course sets up ideal for us, " Johnson said. "Yeah, it was a bit of a roller coaster".
The plan drew an indignant response from McIlroy, who usually is quite good off the tee.
Rory McIlroy and Jason Day never recovered from theirs. "I was out of it. trying to stay out of the way of Rory". There no longer is a 10-shot rule that would allow anyone within 10 shots of the lead to make the cut. He was sidelined earlier this year with a rib injury and has made just five PGA TOUR starts in 2017. That still didn't appear to be almost enough. He says the greens on his last few holes "were firming up".
Ernie Els opened with a 70 on the 20th anniversary of his last US Open victory.
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After starting on the back nine, defending champion Dustin Johnson struggled to a 75, making only one birdie.
Willett shot a 9-over 81 in the first round and then withdrew before his tee time in the second round.
"I started missing some left on the course and tried to sort of correct it on the way in and missed a couple right", he said.
Casey, who began the day one shot back of Fowler, found trouble when he flew his approach out of rough over the green at the par-five 14th, his fifth, into the deep fescue and needed five more strokes to get in the cup.
And then, Fowler took a bogeys at Nos.
"Getting married kind of chills you out, and I don't want to put on too much of a show for her out there", he said on Friday, hinting at past outbursts on the golf course. "It's a good eight in the end".
It seems doubtful that Love IV can actually mount a challenge to win this weekend, but he could make the cut and make some noise.
The 44 under-par rounds broke the first-round mark of 39 at Medinah in 1990. You've got 156 of the best players in the world here. Day had no answers.
A commercial blimp crashed to the ground and caught fire just outside the course Thursday, about the time the county health department was analyzing samples that confirmed evidence of the E. coli bacteria in water at a hydration station near the 12th hole. "And just unfortunately, this didn't pan out".