Out-of-sorts McIlroy on course to miss cut after opening 78

A congested leaderboard and the potential for thunderstorms meant an enthralling day was in prospect at Erin Hills as the final groups prepared to go out in round three of the U.S. Open. It's hard to make a lot of birdies for me around here.

In all, 23 players are within four shots of the lead.

The biggest surprise at this U.S. Open was not who was leading, but who was leaving. That left only four of the top 12 in the world to play the weekend. Prior to missing cuts at The Memorial and U.S. Open, Johnson had played in 21 events and finished outside the top 13 just four times.

Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland reacts after finishing on the ninth green during the second round of the 2017 US Open.

At Erin Hills, all Johnson could do was go down swinging on a Friday. But he missed a pair of 10-foot birdie chances in that stretch, and one of the birdies he made was a two-putt from 20 feet on the par-5 seventh.

One stroke back are a trio of Americans in J.B. Holmes, Jamie Lovemark and first-round leader Fowler.

Instead, the world No. 2 was limited to one birdie over his first nine holes as he continued to miss makeable putts with chances to bring his score closer to red numbers.

"I was in the hay too much over the last couple of days", Day told reporters about the knee-high fescue grass lining the fairways at the links-style layout in the Wisconsin countryside. He said that his 16 years of experience is what allowed him to keep the wheels from falling off on the par-5 14th hole. Matsuyama, a 25-year-old, four-time PGA Tour victor from Japan, had a putt for birdie on the par-5 18th hole, which would have been only the second 8-under round in U.S. Open history, matching Johnny Miller's 63 at par-71 Oakmont in 1973.

And with the tees moved up on the 15th hole to make it reachable, Thomas hit a 3-wood that rolled off the back slope of the green to 6 feet.

It's not the kind of leaderboard that makes someone cancel their weekend plans to stay home and watch the last two rounds of the U.S. Open. "It was a bit of a roller coaster".

South Africa's Louis Oosthuizen had looked like being the early pacesetter, the former Open champion going to the turn in 32 and picking up shots on the 11th and 15th, only to run up a double bogey on the 17th. It's still Saturday, 36 holes is a very long time in a US Open.

Harman, a two-time PGA Tour victor from Georgia, said, "I was pretty nervous this morning and I got off to a little shaky start". Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy and Jason Day - the top three players in the world, all of them professing expansive Erin Hills to be flawless for their games - spent Friday cleaning out their lockers after missing the cut. I couldn't possibly shoot any higher than I did, I just struggled on the greens.

Not bad for a guy who made the cut on the number. And I can hit those shots.

Casey, who had shot a six-under-par 66 on Thursday, had threatened to mount an early assault on the leaderboard but came unstuck with a disastrous triple bogey eight on the 14th.

"Even though it's very disappointing to not be here on the weekend, I think these last two rounds will serve me well going into the summer, " he said.

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