BROOKLINE, Mass. – Amid a tenuous period for golf, Brooks Koepka said earlier this week that he wanted the focus to be on the US Open. After two rounds, with Phil Mickelson now gone after missing the cut, it’s safe to say that attention has shifted back to golf thanks to big names and unique stories.

So let’s oblige Koepka.

Here are five things to look out for before heading into the weekend at the Country Club:

Loaded up

For a while on Friday, the game’s best players were absent from the top of the leaderboard. But as the wind died down in the afternoon, four players ranked in the world’s top 10 moved on.

After recovering a double bogey with a marvelous 25-foot putt on the third hole, Rory McIlroy heads within a shot of the lead on Saturday. Between the frustration and passion he showed on a few holes this week, it’s clear that McIlroy not only wants to end his eight-year major drought, but believes he can. And after picking up a big win at the RBC Canadian Open last week, played against LIV Golf’s debut in London, McIlroy’s game seems to be starting at the perfect time for him and for the sport.

Meanwhile, Collin Morikawa is trying to win his third major and his first US Open after putting together the tournament’s best 66 on Friday to climb to the top of the standings. Earlier this week, Morikawa said his game wasn’t at his best because he couldn’t achieve a fade. If so, it doesn’t seem to hurt him. Jon Rahm, the defending US Open champion who played alongside Morikawa on Friday, nearly matched it. The Spaniard’s 67, helped by an eagle in the 14th minute, put him back in one shot.

“I think it’s a testament to the health and state of this game,” Rahm said of the standings after his tour, which notably includes players who have stuck with the PGA Tour. “It’s pretty amazing to see Rory back to back – it’s not like he’s ever been anywhere. Obviously Scottie is doing what he’s been doing all year, Collin is doing what he’s been doing all year. he always does, myself doing what I always try to do, like It’s fun for all of us because we all want to compete with the best and beat the best.”

Asked about the loaded standings, McIlroy simply replied, “That’s why we play.”

Scheffler in the shadows

Before anyone could fully realize it, the world No. 1 was suddenly tied for the clubhouse lead on Friday. Scottie Scheffler started the day tied, fell to 2 early, then knocked him down in the blink of an eye and is now just 2 strokes back. Two birdies and a holey eagle on the back nine put him in prime position heading into the weekend, even though most of the recent talk around the sport hasn’t involved him lately.

As Scheffler himself will tell you, he loves the fact that even though he’s the best player in the world, he doesn’t talk about the tour the way McIlroy and PGA Champion Justin Thomas did. those last weeks.

“I feel like a low-key person,” said Scheffler, who won the Masters in April. “I’ve been world No. 1 for a while now, and I don’t really feel like it.”

“I can show up and do my thing and then go home and rest,” Scheffler said.

So far it seems to work. For two days, it feels like Scheffler hasn’t shown his best, yet he’s in the thick of things heading into Saturday. But if Scheffler wins again and becomes the first player to win two majors in a year since Brooks Koepka won two in 2018, it will be hard for him to stay under the radar.

the other guys

While the leaderboard filled with top performers in the afternoon wave, there were still relative unknowns lurking. Morikawa’s lead is shared with 34-year-old Joel Dahmen.

Dahmen isn’t quite the unknown — he has three PGA Tour wins — but his performance has been surprising since Friday marked the first time he made the cut at the US Open. Last Monday, Dahmen tweeted that he had just qualified for the US Open and needed accommodation. He’s going to stay all weekend now and has a chance of ending up with big money – and maybe a trophy too.

Hayden Buckley is only making his second major appearance after missing the cut at the US Open last year. Buckley is a Korn Ferry Tour alumnus who is ranked 259th in the world. He has three professional victories.

Nick Hardy, also via the Korn Ferry Tour, has only a bit more experience: he’s only played at three majors in his career. He missed the cut at two of them and finished 52nd at the 2015 US Open. He only found out last Friday that he was on the court. Now he’s 3 under and two off the lead.

Matthew NeSmith is the 168th player in the world. It’s only his second major appearance (he missed the cut in 2015). Still, he’s been fueled by his iron game and has run two rounds under 70 and is just 3 shots off the lead going into the weekend.

“I didn’t know if I could compete with the big hitters from range,” NeSmith said. “But it’s just that if you put yourself on the line, I can let my iron game shine. It’s kind of where I like to live and hit a bunch of greens and see what we can do on a weekend. end.”

You don’t want to be in seventh place

As statistics guru Justin Ray pointed out on Twitter On Friday, 25 of the last 26 US Open winners were tied for sixth or better after two rounds. It’s enough of a trend to make seventh place — or worse — the place you don’t want to head to on the weekends. It’s not good for Scheffler (T-7), Matt Fitzpatrick, Sam Burns (T-13) and more. The weekend could bring another exception to the rule. Scheffler’s record speaks for itself. Sam Burns, who is in the same rental house as Scheffler this week, has also been playing well lately; he broke into the top 10 in the world for the first time in his career. Although he is not playing alongside Scheffler, Burns said he is definitely pursuing him.

“I’m a little upset he beat me by one,” Burns said with a smile Friday. “Obviously he had a fantastic year, and that kind of motivated me to try to play a little bit better and try to keep up with him.

Fitzpatrick has an obvious familiarity with the venue after winning the 2013 US Amateur at Brookline.

“I tried not to have any expectations this week,” Fitzpatrick said after Thursday’s round. “I just want to enjoy the week, having obviously played so well here nine years ago. I have fond memories of the place, and all the time I’ve been out I see shots I’ve hit and I see the places I was. I think because of that, I’m a little more comfortable. I’m just trying not to put pressure on myself. It’s a golf course that I’m on. I know I can do well, and I’m just trying to appreciate that.”

The LIV update

As much as Koepka would like the focus to be on LIV, it’s hard to do just that when it’s Country Club’s hottest topic this week. After two rounds, only four of the 15 LIV players (including Bryson DeChambeau and Patrick Reed, who have committed to play in the next LIV event in Portland) have made the cut. DeChambeau, Reed, Richard Bland and Dustin Johnson all play weekends; none are under s.

Johnson, who is ranked 16th in the world, was the best of the group. He’s 1 over and tied for 31st after trailing a first-round 68 with a 73.

Johnson said he didn’t notice any difference in fan reaction this week after he left for LIV. And when asked how well he’d be able to keep his game playing just LIV events, Johnson was blunt: “As sharp as I would be playing anywhere.”