PITTSFORD, N.Y. — Justin Rose, the golfer you remember but maybe have not thought all that much about lately in major tournaments, had hit two fairways all day. He had birdied as often as he had bogeyed.
And when he walked off the course on Friday, his tournament score at one under par, he was positioned to contend at the P.G.A. Championship this weekend. He had figured, he said, that four under could win the tournament at an Oak Hill Country Club where the fairways seem to be awfully hard to find.
“There are chances,” said Rose, the 2013 U.S. Open winner who only in February ended a four-year drought of PGA Tour victories. “If you do drive the ball in play, there’s a few fun pins. Those are the moments in your round you have to pick up three, four birdies and then ride some of the tougher holes and tough breaks that you’re going to get out there.”
So it went during the second round at Oak Hill, which had been hardly prone to compromise on Thursday and stayed fearsome on Friday. By nightfall, only nine men in the 156-player field were under par; the 2008 P.G.A. Championship was the last with fewer than 10 players below par after two rounds.
Corey Conners, Viktor Hovland and Scottie Scheffler shared the lead at five under, while Bryson DeChambeau and Justin Suh trailed by two strokes and were tied for fourth.
The par-70 course has never yielded a major champion who was not in the top three after the opening two rounds.
“It’s nice to be back to have a chance, but at the same time, we’ve got a lot of golf left,” Hovland said. “We’re only halfway, and a lot of things can happen.”
The cut, the top 70 golfers plus ties, claimed the rising stars Tom Kim and Sungjae Im and the reigning U.S. Open winner Matt Fitzpatrick. Jordan Spieth, who needs a P.G.A. Championship victory to complete the career Grand Slam, and Justin Thomas, who won last year’s tournament, just made the cut at five over, along with Phil Mickelson and Zach Johnson, the captain of this year’s American Ryder Cup team.
Through his first two rounds in suburban Rochester, Rose was never in much danger of joining them. But it has been an up-and-down decade since his Open victory at Merion. There were two runner-up finishes at Augusta National Golf Club, but never one of the green jackets that Masters Tournament champions don. He finished the 2018 British Open at Carnoustie two strokes behind Francesco Molinari, who missed this week’s cut. There were a few top 10 showings at P.G.A. Championships, a third-place performance at a U.S. Open and the sustained aggravation of going winless for so long on tour.
A renewal of confidence came at Pebble Beach, the site of that third-place Open finish, in February, when he finally found a victory.
“Just the fact of knowing I can do it again is important,” said Rose, who is seeking to become the first British player to win a P.G.A. Championship in 104 years.
So far at Oak Hill, he has found his iron play pleasing and his putting encouraging, but his game still in need of some tightening. A dose of hard-won realism probably did not hurt, either.
“When I did catch a bad lie in the rough, took my medicine and pitched out and tried to avoid the big number,” he said. “I felt like making a bogey or two around here is no big deal.”
He was probably right, since even the leaderboard’s highest reaches were speckled with green, bogey-signaling squares on Friday. Dustin Johnson, who shot a 67 in the opening round, raced downward on Friday, when he stumbled to a 74. Less than a week after a victory in an LIV Golf tournament in Oklahoma, Johnson had four bogeys and a double bogey, his frustrations eased only by a pair of birdies.
Min Woo Lee, on the other hand, used a day of exceptional putting to make five birdies on Friday’s front nine to reach even par. Brooks Koepka played the first half of Friday’s round to par but had five birdies on the back nine to move to two under, a four-stroke swing from Thursday. Patrick Cantlay, the highest-ranked player in the world (No. 4) without a major tournament victory in his career, gained three strokes to stand at one over.
“If you hit great shots all day, you can play a good round, and if you just get a little off all day, you can play a round like I did yesterday where I shot four over par,” Cantlay said on Friday. “It’s just the line is that small. You’d better be on the right side of it.”
Michael Block, the head pro at Arroyo Trabuco Golf Club, southeast of Los Angeles, was just above Cantlay on the leaderboard, at even par, a score more than sufficient for him to make the P.G.A. Championship cut for the first time.
“People out there, they understand: They’ve hit that ball out into the bushes on the right side and they don’t know what’s happening, but the lucky thing about me is I figured it out pretty quick where I was going wrong,” Block, who is appearing in his fifth P.G.A. Championship, said. “Club pros, I always heard, figure it out within a couple shots. Tour pros figure it out within one shot, and I was lucky enough to figure it out within one shot this time.”
Oak Hill has narrow fairways — No. 18’s is as skinny as 20 yards — and surging winds made them even trickier to stick on Friday than they had been on Thursday, when Rory McIlroy, the No. 3 player in the Official World Golf Ranking, landed in only two. On Friday, shots that rocketed off the tee and appeared promising frequently tumbled into a rough almost inevitably described as penal.
“I had a couple back-to-back drives on 16 and 17 where I thought it was dead in the middle, landed in the perfect spot, and just the fairways are so firm, it just rolled right in the rough,” said Sepp Straka, whose 71 on Friday brought him even for the tournament. “There’s not much stopping the ball out there right now other than the rough, and when you get in the rough, it’s really tough to score.”
Weather conditions are expected to worsen Saturday, when rain and wind could batter the course.
“I think that’s going to throw off the comfort level again,” Rose said. “This is just going to be four days of kind of getting the most out of each day.”
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