U.S. Open started Friday lit by unknowns. By dusk, stars had come out.

For a weird while it looked as if this U.S. Open might turn out to be some sort of funky qualifiers’ paradise. Up to the rafters of the leader board went five unknowns who qualified in Ohio, two who qualified in Texas, one who qualified in Canada, this guy, that guy, that other guy. It felt like if you hadn’t played one of the 36-hole qualifiers you must have been some sort of hopeless slacker.

Then came the midday and afternoon of Friday at such a geezer of a country club it is called the Country Club, and up the boards around the course crashed the surnames of the stars: SCHEFFLER, then MORIKAWA and RAHM and then, wait, MCILROY.

Now the U.S. Open has itself a whopper of a leader board approaching the weekend, with Collin Morikawa up top with Joel Dahmen at 5 under par, Rory McIlroy and Jon Rahm among five players at 4 under and No. 1 Scottie Scheffler among five at 3 under.

“Yeah, I mean, it’s why we play,” McIlroy said, soon adding, “You want to go up against the best to try to bring the best out of yourself.”

As the shadows lengthened Friday afternoon, the best did seem to be Morikawa, not that it came as a jolt. The reigning British Open champion and 2020 PGA titlist might not be hitting like he’s accustomed to hitting, but he’s missing in the right spots, in the eccentric parlance one often hears around this batty sport.

He started on the back nine, rang up a sublime 32, stammered a lone bogey on No. 4, then treated those in the bleachers at the par-5 eighth hole to one of the great mis-hits they will ever see, an approach that went up the scary hill and bounded onto the front left part of the green and came to sit six feet from an eagle.

He nudged that putt left and looked sad, but the birdie pushed him ahead, and the round (66) bested all the others. It all looked so promising that somebody brought up the fact he has opened with two rounds in the 60s in only two previous majors, and he has won both those majors.

“That’s such a terrible stat,” the business major said and grinned. “I mean, I’ve played 11 majors. It’s not a big enough stat to really make anything out of it, but hopefully.”

Ah well, at least he’s got his topic of the week on which to elaborate: the flummoxing fact he’s hitting a little draw rather than a little cut these days. “No, I think what it proves is you can play this game with many shots,” the 25-year-old said. “I remember the first time I played with Tiger [Woods] and he hit every shot that called for it. 

Pin is on the right, you hit a little cut. Pin is on the left, you hit a little draw. This is just going to hopefully make my iron play and make my game a little bit more well-rounded than just hitting a cut. But this week we’re going to work with what we have, and right now it’s a little baby draw.”

He and Rahm finished together, Rahm with his 67 saying they could “feed off each other,” and as Rahm spoke and praised the leader board as “a testament to the health and the state of this game” — an issue in question lately — McIlroy was wrapping up outside.