Merion a tough challenge for world’s best

Mickelson, Horschel are only players still under par

  • Billy-Horschel-tees-off-on-the-eighth-hole

    Billy Horschel tees off on the eighth hole. He is in a share for the lead after hitting all 18 greens in regulation.


  • Billy Horschel tees off on the eighth hole. He is in a share for the lead after hitting all 18 greens in regulation.
    Billy Horschel tees off on the eighth hole. He is in a share for the lead after hitting all 18 greens in regulation.

    ARDMORE, Pa. — The Broad Street Bullies were a collection of hockey antagonists from the 1970s who had nicknames such as Hammer and Hound, Moose and Big Bird. They terrorized opponents who ventured into their Philadelphia home and bloodied their noses, just for good measure.

    Kind of like what’s happening at Merion Golf Club, where the 113th U.S. Open is starting to look like the Spectrum with wicker baskets.

    In this instance, the bullies are the United States Golf Association, who must have got up on the wrong side of the bed when they set the pin locations for the second round. They were tucked in such odd spots that players needed a GPS system to find them.

    “They’re trying to protect par,” said Tiger Woods, the world’s No. 1 player. “They made it really hard.”

    After nearly two rounds, the only players under par are first-round leader Phil Mickelson, who didn’t make a birdie until a 20-footer at the final hole; and Billy Horschel, who shot the day’s low round (67). They are tied at 1-under 139.

    Three players are a shot behind at par-140, including England’s Luke Donald, who bogeyed five of his last nine holes in a round of 72. He is tied with Steve Stricker and Justin Rose, each of whom shot 69 on a day when only three players bettered par.

    The second round was suspended because of darkness with 68 players still on the course, including England’s Ian Poulter, who was even with four holes remaining. They will return today to complete the round and determine the cut, projected to be 148.

    “The pins were a lot more tucked; they were tougher to get to,” Donald said. “A few were on little hills and slopes. It’s very difficult to make those putts when the ball is breaking so much.”

    “I thought the pins were very severe,” added former U.S. Open champion Jim Furyk, who hit 13 of 14 fairways in the second round and still shot 79. “I thought there were some hole locations that would have been unplayable had they been dry and firm.”

    Mickelson made 14 pars and hit nine of his last 10 fairways, but his putter cost him a number of strokes in the middle of the round when he missed short birdie attempts at Nos. 8 and 11 and a 2-footer for par at 12. That ended his streak of 10 consecutive pars after an opening bogey.

    He followed that bogey with another at the short par-3 13th when he hit a wedge into the back bunker, dropping him from the lead for the first time since the ninth hole on Thursday.

    “It was a very nice way to finish,” Mickelson said. “I fought hard all day and let a lot of birdie opportunities slide in the middle of the round.”

    Then he added, “It should not have been an over-par round as well as I played.”

    Horschel hit all 18 greens in regulation in the second round — the first player to do that in a U.S. Open since 1998. His only bogey came at the shortest hole on the course — the 123-yard 13th — when he three-putted. That ended a streak of 21 holes without a bogey.

    “No, I was not in the zone, trust me,” Horschel said. “I know what in the zone is for me — I don’t get nervous, I just see the shot and go. And I saw the shot and went with it, but I was still nervous with a lot of them.”

    Horschel has been one of the PGA Tour’s hottest players since April. He won the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, finished second at the Houston Open and third at the Valero Texas Open. He has five top-10 finishes in his last seven starts.

    Because he did not finish his first round on Thursday, Horschel played 29 holes on Friday.

    “It was a great day,” Horschel said. “Four birdies at a U.S. Open, I’ll take it. I wish I had a couple more, though.”

    Woods (70) and Rory McIlroy (70) were among the seven players in the clubhouse who shot par or better in the second round, leaving them in a group of five players at 143, four shots from the lead. Woods, the world’s No. 1 player, has never won any of his 78 PGA Tour titles when he was over par after two rounds.

    Donald, who ended his Thursday round with three consecutive birdies when play was suspended, went the other way in the second round. After being tied for the lead, he had five bogeys in a six-hole stretch, including four in a row beginning at No. 4, his 12th hole.

    But he managed to stop the leaking with a birdie at No. 9, a 206-yard par-3, that soothed his psyche.

    “The greens have been tricky to read all week,” said Donald, the No. 6-ranked player in the world. “They seem to be breaking a little bit more than I’m seeing, hence a couple of lip-outs. But you try not to panic in U.S. Opens. You try to take each hole as it comes.”

    The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Gerry Dulac is a reporter for the Post-Gazette.