ARDMORE, Pa. – Phil Mickelson made his first birdie on his last putt. Billy Horschel never missed a green. It was all they could do to barely break par against Merion, which is turning out to be the real star of this U.S. Open.
Nearly half the field did not finish the second round when it was suspended by darkness. Moments after the horn sounded to stop play, Mickelson opted to finish his round and drilled a 20-foot birdie putt for a 2-over 72. That gave him a share of the clubhouse lead with Horschel, who made it as easy as possible by hitting every green in regulation for a 67.
They were at 1-under 139.
Even with the round not finished, it was becoming clear that this U.S. Open might be up for grabs until the very end. Tiger Woods, who grimaced with every shot out of the rough because of pain in his left elbow, was at 3-over 143 and still very much in the game.
“I don’t know how anyone is going to separate too far from the field,” Mickelson said. “There might be a hot round tomorrow, and they might get a hot round on Sunday, but unlikely to be the same player.”
No one was hotter than Horschel, playing in his first U.S. Open since he was a 19-year-old in college.
Nothing is tougher than Merion, the little course in the tony suburbs of Philadelphia that even in rain-softened conditions is showing plenty of might. And to think there was chatter at the start of the week about the potential for the first 62 in major championship history.
“Perhaps next time you guys will believe when we say it’s really not that easy, that it’s really not that easy,” Geoff Ogilvy said after a 70. That put him at 4-over 144, which gave him and dozens of others a legitimate shot going into the weekend.
Luke Donald (72), Justin Rose (69) and Steve Stricker (69) were at even-par 140.
The surprise were a pair of amateurs – Michael Kim of Cal and Cheng-Tsung Pan of University of Washington and Taiwan. They were 2 under for their round and among those who didn’t finish.
Chris Williams of Moscow, Idaho, who recently finished his University of Washington career, shot a 74 and was at 4-over 149.
The long day, brought on by storm delays on Thursday, began with cool conditions and patches of light rain that eventually gave way to plenty of sunshine. That led players to wonder how much tougher Merion will be once it starts to dry out.
“It’s not as easy as people think,” defending champion Webb Simpson said after a 75 put him six shots behind the clubhouse lead. “I heard 15, 16 under floating around. And it’s going to be a normal U.S. Open winning score, I think.”
Horschel hit all 18 greens in regulation, a stellar achievement at a regular tour event, let alone the U.S. Open. It sent USGA officials searching for hours to find the last time anyone failed to miss a green in the toughest test in golf. Records of that detail only go back as far as 1989. That last documentation of someone doing that was Johnny Miller when he closed with a 63 at Oakmont to win in 1973.
David Graham used his putter on every hole – three from the fringe – when he shot 67 to win the 1981 U.S. Open at Merion.
“I didn’t know I hit every green until I walked off 18,” Horschel said. “It’s a cool thing. But like I said, it’s not the first time I’ve hit all 18 greens. I’ve done it plenty of times in my career. Obviously, it’s at a U.S. Open, but I think the softness of the greens helped that.”
Pan played nine holes and was even par, along with Ian Poulter, who was plodding along in plaid at 1 under for his round through 14 holes. John Senden of Australia had a 71 and Nicolas Colsaerts of Belgium shot 72 to finish at 1-over 141.
Mickelson, equipped with a full night of rest after his cross-country trip Wednesday from his daughter’s eighth-grade graduation in San Diego, began with a three-putt bogey and appeared ready to pull away with a shot that nearly spun back into the hole at No. 8. He missed the birdie putt from 4 feet. Then he hit a beautiful tee shot over the water to a dangerous front pin on the par-3 ninth to about 7 feet. He missed that one, too.
“Lefty” three-putted from 20 feet on No. 12, and then flew a wedge over the green into a plugged lie for bogey on the par-3 13th. He kept battling until ending on a sweet note. With that birdie putt on his final hole, Mickelson was under par through 36 holes for the seventh time in the U.S. Open. The previous six times, he was a threat to win on Sunday. Mickelson has five silver medals as a runner-up.