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18 June 2017, 12:12 | Sandy Nunez
While McIlroy and former world number one Jason Daymissed the cut, amateur Cameron Champ - who turned 22 on Thursday - and Xander Schauffele were unlikely contenders on five under par, alongside Players Championship victor Si Woo Kim.
Day never had a chance, following his career-worst 79 in a U.S. Open with a 75.
Amateur Cameron Champ is on an identical score after another under-par round for the 22-year-old, while Si Woo Kim, Xander Schauffele and Brandt Snedeker are also two shots back and well placed.
The last six majors have crowned first-time champions and that trend looks poised to continue at Erin Hills where you have to look way down the leaderboard to 19th before finding a major victor in U.S. Masters champion Sergio Garcia of Spain.
Fowler will be among the later starters along with defending champion Dustin Johnson, who opened defence of his crown with shaky three-over 75 and will need to mount a charge to make the cut.
But the world's top three missed the cut - the first time that has happened at a major since the rankings began in 1986.
But under sunny skies on Thursday, Erin Hills looked more friend than foe with 44 golfers breaking par to set a record for the opening round of a U.S. Open.
McIlroy spent all day in the knee-high fescue and shot 78, his worst US Open score.
Fowler finished in the top 5 in all four majors in 2014, and it appeared that would be his springboard to the next level.
"I saw some positives there on the back nine coming in and hopefully I can take them to the Travelers (tournament) next week", he said. Some of the world's top-ranked players and pre-tournament favourites look poised to miss the cut. "I took advantage of it the last few days". "I really haven't been hitting the ball well as of late".
Masters champion Sergio Garcia meanwhile was lurking five off the lead after a two-under-par 70.
Casey nearly watched his U.S. Open hopes sink with a triple-bogey eight on the par-five 14th hole, and a bogey on the next that dropped him to two under for the tournament.
However, plenty of others were firmly in contention at the start of the penultimate day; only eight shots separated the leaders from those who made the cut on the bubble.
"I couldn't have shot any higher", Johnson said.
McIlroy entered the U.S. Open having not competed since last month's Players.
Rory McIlroy joked earlier in the week that anyone who could not hit such wide fairways "might as well pack your bags and go home". 16 (getting an awkward bunker shot up and down) and 17 (where he cooked his second from the rough over the green) just to make some pars and give himself some momentum to hold onto heading into the weekend.
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