The 33-year-old Victorian backed his first-round 68 with an gutsy even-par 72 during Friday's second round to keep his four-under-par total, despite officials opting for a more hard course set-up at Erin Hills in Wisconsin.
Nearly an inch of rain fell on the course overnight, but scoring conditions were far from easy as the likes of former champion Jordan Spieth and Lee Westwood tried to move into contention.
After battling and winning his way into the U.S. Open, the Wisconsin resident will make the weekend cut, going into it just one over par through the first two days. Fleetwood was poised to take the lead until his pitch to the 18th wasn't strong enough and his next shot went beyond the flag and down the slope some 70 feet away.
The bunched leaderboard consists of four players tied at the top: Englishman Paul Casey and Tommy Fleetwood, and Americans Brian Harman and Brooks Koepka. Right behind him were 43 other players who broke par, breaking a championship record that had stood for 27 years.
Casey, 39, began one shot off the lead at Erin Hills and went on to card six birdies, - including five in a row - two bogeys and a triple-bogey calamity eight. He loved Erin Hills, a course with wide fairways between the knee-high fescue that he figured would allow him to attack. The only good thing about his opening round of 77 was that it was the lowest of his group, with Tiger Woods shooting 80 and Rickie Fowler an 81 for a combined total of 28 over par.
Lowry had a poor front nine, which featured four bogeys and a birdie.
"It's been an off-week for me with the putting", said the former world number one, whose back nine of 40 included a double-bogey seven on the 18th. They were three shots clear of anyone else.
The quartet are seven under at Erin Hills after a Friday that saw Japan's Hideki Matsuyama surge up a congested leaderboard with a stunning seven-under 65, while the world's top-ranked players were unable to stage recoveries.More news: Death of man in multi-state chase ruled a homicide
Fowler, sharing a house with Thomas this week, was being left behind until he ran off three straight birdies and shot 68.
McIlroy's performance might not be that surprising given that he's played only six PGA Tour events this year and missed most of the last month with a rib injury. World number one and defending champion Dustin Johnson is among the late starters and will have to improve on Thursday's three-over effort if he hopes to take his title defence into the weekend. Jack Nicklaus and Tom Weiskopf each shot 7-under 63 in the first round at Baltusrol in the 1980 U.S. Open. I did the work, looked at the golf course, made sure that I could actually play and visualize the golf course.
He then bogied the 15 hole, hitting it short of the green in two and failing to get the up and down.
And for all the birdies and blunders at Erin Hills, the most compelling image Friday came from the parking lot, where one star after another left town after missing the cut.
It's not the kind of leaderboard that makes someone cancel their weekend plans to stay home and watch the last two rounds of the U.S. Open.
"I was upset with the score I had made, but it did not have any effect on my attitude or how I was going to then approach the rest of the round or the next shot".
Casey laid up in the rough on the par-5 14th hole.
"We're in a good spot", Fowler said.