OAKMONT, Pa. - One of Oakmont Country Club's unique features is that the rear of the expansive ninth green doubles as the practice putting area.
Yesterday, that rear shelf turned into an amphitheater of sorts as Paul Casey lined up his final putt, a two-footer, at No. 9.
When Casey tapped his putt dead center, every golfer on the rear green, all of whom had stopped practicing to watch, leaned his putter against a leg and applauded.
That's how good Casey's 4-under 66 was in yesterday's second round of the U.S. Open.
It may have been Johnny Miller good. When Miller shot a final-round 63 to win the 1973 Open at a rain-softened Oakmont, the scoring average that Sunday was 73.8. Yesterday's average score was 76.933. You can do the math.
Casey carded five birdies and one bogey and only the latter stopped him from claiming this as his best-ever round.
"This is right up there, though," the 29-year-old Englishman said. "It's a shame to have that blemish with the bogey on [No. 18, his ninth hole of the round], but the U.S. Open is the toughest test in golf and Oakmont could possibly be the toughest golf course I've ever played with the setup today."
Casey's 66 followed an opening-round 77 that found him in an 11-way tie for 104th.
Last year, at Winged Foot, Casey began the 106th Open with a 77 and played the next 54 holes in 3-over, the best closing 54 in the field. At the Masters in April, Casey started with a 79 and played the next three rounds in even par, tying for the best closing 54-hole score.
"I played a practice round Wednesday with Sergio [Garcia] and Luke [Donald] and I actually kept score," Casey said, laughing. "I thought that might get rid of the first-round jitters, I guess, would be the word. But clearly it didn't."
The second round, though, was something else. Casey hit 13 of 14 fairways and one-putted 10 greens after an early tee time.
"I'm still a bit stunned," the eight-time winner on the European Tour said. "I certainly don't want the USGA to make it any tougher. I wouldn't talk up that round and say anything other than it was one of my best rounds of golf ever and that I got some lucky breaks, because this course is brutal."
Casey is 3-over 143 after 36 holes and trails leader Angel Cabrera by three shots entering today's play.
DONE IN AND DONE: Playing with a wrist injury, Phil Mickelson was pretty pleased with negotiating the toughest stretch of Oakmont - Nos. 7-10 - in even par during Thursday's first round. Yesterday, he covered the same stretch in 6-over en route to a 77.
"That did me in today," said Mickelson, who saw a streak of 13 straight cuts made in the Open come to an end. He finished at 11-over 151 and the cut came at 150 when Cabrera, one of the last off the course, birdied the 18th hole to alter the 10-shot cut-rule line.
Mickelson, who turned in a rather gutsy 74 on Thursday by closing with eight straight pars, got off to a good start yesterday with birdies at Nos. 4 and 6. But he played the ensuing four-hole stretch in double bogey-bogey-bogey-double bogey and went on to card 40 on the back nine.
He seemed tired of talking about his injury - "Look, it's fine. It's sore but it's fine," he snapped - and said he hadn't thought about future tournament play. He committed several weeks ago to playing in next week's PGA Tour event at Hartford, but there's a chance he won't compete again until the British Open July 19-22 at Carnoustie.
"It's not getting too much worse, so that's a good thing," Mickelson said.
BLOODY ROUND: Justin Rose hasn't posted a sub-par, red number yet - he has gone 71-71 to position himself as a serious contender at the midway point - but he saw plenty of red yesterday at the second hole.
"No, my caddie didn't hit me or anything," he said, laughing. "I just got a bloody nose. Maybe it was allergies. I tend to suffer a little bit from hay fever. I don't know if something irritated me or what. I just sniffed away on the second green. I can't necessarily blame my three-putt there on it, but it was unusual that it happened.
"By the fourth hole it was all good I don't know what to do other than to throw a bit of tissue up there and off you go."
BADDS IS GOOD: Aaron Baddeley struggled for several years after joining the pro circuit in the early 2000s. That included missing cuts in both of his previous U.S. Open appearances. Yesterday, he matched par of 70 for a two-day total of 2-over 142 that has him just two shots off the midway lead.
"I didn't sniff a cut, but now I've come in here playing well and knowing I have the ability to contend," he said. "That's a huge indication of how far I've come."
Baddeley added his second PGA Tour win in as many years earlier this season at the FBR Open.
CHIP SHOTS: The cut came at 10-over 150 and Mickelson wasn't the only major champion to head home. Shaun Micheel and Justin Leonard also were at 151, two-time Open winner Retief Goosen was at 13-over 152, Davis Love III was at 155, and Rich Beem and Todd Hamilton finished at 18-over 158. Other notables to miss the cut included Memorial winner K.J. Choi at 152, Padraig Harrington at 153, Sergio Garcia at 154 and Colin Montgomerie at 158. Amateur Alex Prugh from Spokane, Wash., scored a 10 yesterday at No. 4, statistically the easiest hole on the course. Here's the kicker - he one-putted the hole. First-round leader Nick Dougherty of England followed his opening 68 with a 77 and is five shots out of the lead.40.52219 -79.83882