Furyk, McDowell hunt second major

SAN FRANCISCO -- Golf is supposed to be fun, a leisure pursuit in which you enjoy your surroundings while challenging yourself by playing a game that can almost never be conquered.

The U.S. Open, then, is almost comical given that context, a days-long grind that produces more sneers than smiles.

And so it was that Graeme McDowell came off the Olympic Club course early Friday afternoon having bogeyed three of his final four holes and still satisfied with his day's work. He would end the day tied for fourth, 2 shots out of the lead shared by Tiger Woods, Jim Furyk and David Toms.

"My day was equally enjoyable as yesterday," the Irishman said with tongue firmly planted in cheek. "It's just hard to have fun out there. I've got to be honest with you. It's just a brutal test of golf."

Yes, it is, but McDowell, so far, is taking the perfect approach. Having won a U.S. Open two years ago at Pebble Beach, where the best score was even par, he knows there's no sense in taking yourself too seriously, no point in beating yourself up.

As the second round of the 112th U.S. Open unfolded, that was clear again. Golf is so much different here. The best players in the world, who typically look so flawless, can be made to look foolish. And those who deal with that the best typically prosper.

Perhaps that is why we saw Furyk take a share of the lead. Now 42, Furyk is nine years removed from his only major championship victory, a U.S. Open title in 2003 at Olympia Fields, where he tied a then-tournament scoring record.

The conditions were not difficult that year, but Furyk has proved himself a tough customer in this environment. He tied for second at the 2006 and 2007 U.S. Opens played at Winged Foot and Oakmont, respectively. At both venues, the winning total was 5 over par.

Furyk got off the golf course just as Woods was starting his round, finishing with a 1-under-par 69 that put him at 139 for the tournament, 1 under par. Soon after, first-round leader Michael Thompson fell back, and Furyk was atop the leaderboard at a course that had him offering his respect.

"I think it would be a really fun golf course to play with the members," Furyk joked. "But with this setup and as firm and as fast as it is, fun might not be the first word that comes to mind. It's draining both mentally and physically. You have to be on top of your game the whole time."

And yet, like McDowell, Furyk seemingly does a great job of not letting it bother him.

"You really don't have a choice," he said. "I think there's been years where I've gotten frustrated and I've gotten down on myself and I lost my patience and I tried to force shots in spots and shot some pretty big numbers.

"When I'm playing well and I'm patient and have some control of the ball, I do enjoy 70 being a really good round of golf. I'm not sure I enjoy getting my brains beat in on the golf course for four days, as difficult as it is, but I understand this style of golf, and when I'm playing well, I think it suits my game."

It clearly did not suit the games of the two top-ranked players in the world, No. 1 Luke Donald and No. 2 Rory McIlroy. For the second straight year, the top two ranked players have been bounced from a major championship. It happened at last year's British Open, where Donald and Lee Westwood failed to qualify for the final 36 holes.

Here, Donald shot 79-72 to finish at 11 over par. McIlroy was just a stroke better, missing his fourth cut in his past five tournaments.

"I think the thing is that we're just not used to playing this sort of golf course week in, week out," McIlroy said. "You have to adapt and you have to adjust. We're not used to having to land balls before the edge of the greens to let them run on. And it's just something that you just have to adjust to in this tournament, and I wasn't able to do that very well this week."

Furyk is doing just fine, thanks. Although he has hit only 13 of 28 fairways through two rounds, he leads the field in greens in regulation, having hit 27 of 36 through two rounds. He had three birdies and two bogeys Friday, and pretty much stayed out of trouble.

That was impressive to McDowell, who played the first two rounds with Furyk (and Sergio Garcia) and was among the few players under par until a stumble at the finish. McDowell still managed a round of 72 to complete 36 holes at 141, 1 over.

"You have to play Jim Furyk golf," he said. "I watched yesterday and I watched it again today. Doesn't take chances he doesn't have to take on. He gets it back in the fairway. He putts well. Holes out well. Takes his chances when they come. And that's my type of golf as well.

"I think you have to be, I don't like the word 'plodder,' it's kind of a little bit disrespectful. I think that's an aggressive to conservative type player. You've got to take your shots on, but play safe. So I think that's the kind of guy he is."

Furyk is a 16-time PGA Tour winner who has not won since the 2010 Tour Championship, capping his FedEx Cup title year. Last year Furyk struggled with equipment changes that took him months to sort out, leading to a disappointing season.

This year, Furyk has missed just one cut and has three top-10 finishes, including a playoff loss at the Transitions Championship. Last month he was fourth at the Colonial.

"I realize that at 42, the window's not wide open anymore," he said. "I have a lot more good years behind me than I probably do ahead of me, but I still feel like I've got some game. I've got some more tournaments to win.

"I've always said we're judged by the number of major championships we win, and it would be an honor, it would be a blessing for me to get another major championship under my belt. And I feel like in the next few years I have the opportunity to still be able to do that."

It appears he will have an excellent opportunity this weekend.

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.