At its midpoint, the 85th U.S. Open remains stamped: Made in Taiwan. T.C. Chen is perched atop a leader board minus the usual leaders in golf.
Chen's one-under-par 69 today at Oakland Hills enabled him to tie the 36-hole Open record of 134 set by Jack Nicklaus five years ago.
He missed the cut.
Lee Trevino? Gone.
Tom Watson? 'Bye.
Masters champ Bernhard Langer? Nein.
Ben Crenshaw? History, by a bunch of strokes, even though he made a hole in one on a demon many play for bogey, the ninth.
Fred Couples? Still here, but went south in a hurry. A close second after round one, Couples got to 144 with a 78 that included back-to-back double bogeys.
There is a Watson within three shots of Chen: Denis Watson, who recovered from an unusual penalty the first round to shoot 65. Between Chen and Watson are PGA Tour veteran Jay Haas and 1978 Open champion Andy North (135) and obscure pro Rick Fehr (136).
Tom Kite (139) is among the contenders bunched near or at par 140. So are Curtis Strange and Ray Floyd, defending champion Fuzzy Zoeller and Mark O'Meara, a two-time winner this year.
It was appropriate for one of the survivors to be the University of Maryland's Fred Funk (145), because so many of the glamor guys were in one. Yet 24 players beat par today, which broke the previous Open record for a round by two.
Chen's adventure today suggests he could be headed toward the sort of lightning-in-a-bottle success Orville Moody experienced 16 years ago. Or that North caught seven years ago, and is trying for again. He matched Watson's 65 today, which tied the competitive course record Chen also equaled on day one. Haas had a 66.
Chen saved par four times with reasonably long putts and holed a 20-yard chip. But Chen also missed a two-foot would-be birdie at No. 7 and made a lucky par at the site of his historic double eagle, the second.
"Driving trouble the first five holes," he said. "Didn't miss a fairway the back nine."
Driving was a problem for Chen long before he got to the first tee, he being part of a four-lane parking lot that was supposed to be a feeder road. Stymied 20 minutes in traffic, he had to speed up his normal warmup routine. Perhaps that occasioned his shaky start.
Crowds are an unaccustomed treat for him. Chen recently won two national opens, but there was not this much attention in Korea and Japan. "My first (large) gallery," Chen said, "was at the ('83) Kemper (which he lost in a playoff to Couples). I feel pressure from the crowd, but I can handle it."
He admitted to trying too hard at No. 2. Remembering the first double eagle in 85 Opens, he wanted "an eagle this time." And sank his ball even more quickly than anticipated -- but in a fairway bunker. He eventually made a nice pitch and saved par from eight feet.
Denis Watson said he stepped to the first tee "two under par." That was a reference to his determination to avoid any more collisions with U.S. Golf Association law. At the eighth hole on day one, Watson stroked a putt that couldn't decide whether it wanted to be fowl or foul. The ball seemed to be scouting out the bottom of the hole, for snakes or something, so far over the lip did it hang. Because a pro once dawdled a full minute waiting for a benign burst of wind to push the ball into the cup, golf's thinkers decided 10 seconds was long enough to linger -- once a person got to the cup.
Those final seven words are critical.
"What you do," Trevino said with a twinkle in his eye, "is toss your putter in the air in frustration, or drop to the ground. Any excuse to avoid walking to the hole, 'cause that's when the clock starts."
Watson said the ball had stopped, then started -- and plopped in -- after he addressed it once more. So he figured the birdie indecision had become a 4, and that's what he deserved: par.
Nope, said an official. Six.
Watson called the rule "a little cranky" and seemed equally upset at being informed immediately of the two-stroke penalty instead of after the round.
He bogeyed the next two holes.
Today, the ball all but dived into the hole after leaving Watson's putter. He holed a 50-footer on No. 10 and putted only 23 times in all.
Haas and North have been around long enough to know that the safest way to the cup is the surest way to victory in most Opens.
"I'm a pretty conservative player by nature," Haas said. "I'm not aggressive with three- and four-irons at flags behind bunkers. You notice I had a lot of 30- and 40-foot two-putts. My game is more suited to courses where you don't have to shoot 15 or 20 under to win."
North's game was exactly suited to win the 1978 Open near Denver. Still, he said: "I feel better now than I have the last 10 years."
Surgery on his right elbow two years ago helped. So deep and prolonged was his slump after that Open victory that North considered leaving the tour.
"When you make $22,000 a year and spend $100,000," he said, "you're not going to stay in any business very long."
North hit every green to No. 16 in a bogeyless round and birdied the tough 17th and 18th. He nailed a three-iron to two feet at 17; at 18, he hit a poorer approach today than Thursday but made the 30-footer.
Fehr turned pro last August but failed the PGA's qualifying school. "They don't hand anything to you on a silver platter," the former all-America from Brigham Young said. "You've got to earn it. That's what I'm trying to do this week -- show that I belong out here."