Dustin Johnson took a massive step towards a second US Open victory in three years as Tiger Woods looked set to miss the cut at Shinnecock Hills.
Johnson, who is looking to become only the second player after Woods to win the title as world number one, carded a second round of 67 to set a daunting clubhouse target of four under par.
But playing partner Woods fell foul of the opening hole for the second day running and even a late rally was unlikely to be enough to avoid just the third missed cut of his career in the event.
England’s Tommy Fleetwood had produced the lowest score of the week to date with a superb 66 to finish one over par alongside Henrik Stenson, the former Open champion recovering from a poor start to shoot 70.
But with any wind completely dying away by late afternoon, Ian Poulter closed to within two shots of Johnson’s lead with four to play, with 2013 champion Justin Rose another shot back.
“I like golf courses where par is a really good score and here, on every hole, par is a good score,” said Johnson, who regained top spot in the world rankings with victory in Memphis on Sunday and is trying to become the first player to win the US Open immediately after a victory on the PGA Tour.
“I played well and my speed on my putts has been very good. To hole that one on the seventh (from 45 feet) was a nice bonus.”
Woods ran up a triple-bogey seven on the 407-yard par four in a first round of 78 and after covering the back nine at Shinnecock in 35 on Friday, made a double bogey on the same hole following a terrible approach from the middle of the fairway.
Further dropped shots on the second and sixth left Woods on 12 over par and seemingly certain to make an early exit, only for birdies at the eighth and ninth to keep his faint hopes alive.
“It’s just what I have done the last few events, I have not putted well,” said Woods, who made three double bogeys, one triple bogey and six bogeys over the two days, along with just five birdies.
“You don’t win major championships slapping it around the place and missing putts.”
Fleetwood finished fourth at Erin Hills last year and is relishing another tough challenge over the weekend as he looks to become only the third English winner of the US Open since 1924.
“I have a lot of patience and the tougher the conditions the more I feel I can grind it out and will my way around,” the European number one said. “If you are going to win the US Open, which is one of the biggest tournaments in the world, it should be that kind of test.
“It’s a tournament that sets up for good ball strikers, which is one of my strengths. Yesterday we got beat up and today turned into survival midway through the wind when it was cold and raining, but I managed to get something going with some birdies at the end.”
Fleetwood birdied three of his last five holes as the weather improved, while Stenson bounced back from a front nine of 38 with a birdie on the 13th and an eagle on the par-five 16th.