ARDMORE, Pa. — There were no rain delays, only uninterrupted punishment by Merion Golf Club’s stingy East Course on Friday – and much carnage was left behind at the 113th U.S. Open.
So you still think this is a soft, shorter-than-7,000-yard golf course? It is standing up to the world’s best golfers just fine.
The only thing that prevented a complete shutdown of under-par scoring through nearly two rounds was an almost historic day of shot-making by an up-and-coming American, and an improbable birdie putt on the brutal 18th hole by the overnight clubhouse leader.
Billy Horschel was really the only golfer to walk away Friday from Merion East unstressed and unscathed, shooting the day’s best round at 3-under-par 67. He’s tied for first with Phil Mickelson at 1-under 139.
Horschel did it by hitting all 18 greens in regulation – something rarely seen at a U.S. Open. The last verified account of that happening was Johnny Miller’s famous 63 at Oakmont Country Club in 1973.
“I didn’t know I hit every green until I walked off (No.) 18,” Horschel said. “It’s a cool thing.”
And Mickelson? Those smooth birdie putts that were falling en route to a 67 on Thursday were stopping short of the hole Friday. He missed four birdie putts inside 10 feet, then made a pair of back-to-back bogeys at the 12th and 13th holes to fall back.
But he did get the last laugh, sinking a 25-footer for birdie for a second-round 72.
“I fought hard all day,” Mickelson said.
And among the five golfers at even-par for the tournament are three of England’s finest – Luke Donald (72), Justin Rose (69) and Ian Poulter (1-under in second round through 14 holes).
Cheng-Tsung Pan, a University of Washington junior, is also even-par after posting a bogey-free 34 (2-under) on his opening nine holes Friday before play was suspended because of darkness.
Gig Harbor’s Kyle Stanley is tied for 33rd at 5-over 145, and Puyallup’s Ryan Moore (12-over) is one of 68 golfers who did not complete his second round, and will return to the course at 7:15 a.m. (EDT) Saturday to finish.
Horschel, a University of Florida product, has started to make his way into the conversation as one of the best 20-something U.S. golfers. He’s ranked 50th in the world, and until last month at The Players Championship, he had made 23 consecutive cuts on the PGA Tour.
Horschel, 26, earned his first career victory at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans on April 28.
He’s an emotional player with a deft short game, but it was his ball-striking that was the talk on the grounds Friday. Horschel made four birdies, and his only real hiccup was a three-putt bogey at the 13th hole.
“You are never going to see a better ball-striking round than he showed today,” said Jordan Spieth, one of Horschel’s playing partners the first two rounds.
When asked if he was in some sort of unconscious shot-making zone, Horschel quickly dismissed the idea.
“This golf course, even though it’s soft, is still a tough golf course,” Horschel said.
As much as frustration boiled for Mickelson over the short missed birdie chances, it all seemed to be forgotten after his unexpected birdie on the finishing hole.
“Today should not have been an over-par round, as well as I played,” Mickelson said.
Meanwhile Tiger Woods is still around after shooting 70 on Friday. He is 3-over 143, and tied for 17th.
Then there is Pan, a good-natured standout from Taiwan who seems to have a game that meshes well with United States Golf Association championships. Twice a U.S. Amateur quarterfinalist, he is on the brink of serious contention at the U.S. Open.
“I’m really happy with my performance,” Pan said. “I still have 45 holes to go. I’ve got lots of work to do and I need to finish it.”