A weather-shortened Thursday at the 2013 U.S. Open meant a long Friday for many of the contenders at Merion Golf Club, and a tougher course resulted in leading scores dipping dramatically.
Every golfer in the field finished Friday at or over par for the tournament other than co-leaders Phil Mickelson and Billy Horschel, who sit at one-under according to ESPN SportsCenter.
Mickelson was the story of Day 2 before he even teed off, as his first round score of 67 looked like it would give him a big advantage heading into the weekend. But after starting strong, he found himself back with the rest of the pack of leaders after missing a slew of putts which he talked about with the PGA Tour.
However, it was his green game that offered the biggest moment of Day 2, as a 25-footer dropped in for birdie on 18 just after the horn sounded to end play for the day. The birdie gave him a tie for the lead.
Lefty's putter may have failed him at other times Friday in his attempt to win his first U.S. Open, as ESPN's Bob Harig noted, but the impact of his ability to finish strong with a lengthy putt cannot be understated.
Mickelson's great play and a late arrival to Merion early Thursday, as well as Justin Rose's performance (one shot off the lead) had Golf Channel host Gary Williams making a cross-sport reference:
Here's a look at the live leaderboard, courtesy of PGA Tour:
Much of the action took place before Lefty even stepped into the tee box, most notably with the super-trio pairing of Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Adam Scott. Woods and McIlroy each posted a 70, and are only four shots back at three-under, which they couldn't have expected upon finishing their round. But Scott struggled.
The 2013 Masters champion shot five-over for the day, currently sitting at seven-over par for the tournament. Such a number after two rounds of a major wouldn't likely make the cut, but due to the pedestrian scores around the field, his score was safe, and Associated Press golf writer Doug Ferguson was quick to point it out.
But even with crowd-favorite Mickelson leading and Scott struggling, the bulk of the talk will continue to revolve around Woods. His improvement from a 73 on Thursday to a 70 on Friday, plus cutting down his bogeys from six in the first round to three in the second, gives glimmers of hope.
However, ESPN's Justin Ray was quick to point out a disappointing stat for Tiger:
A big name heading into the weekend was Justin Rose, the South African who has come so close to winning a major so many times. He's shown so far that he'll be a major contender throughout the weekend, and as Iain Carter of BBC Sport proves, it's largely due to his success on the fairways.
We can talk about the big names all day, but don't take anything away from Horschel. The 26-year-old hasn't been in many major tournaments (or any big tournaments, really), but he's had a break-through year in 2013 and is showing it so far on a gritty Merion course.
ESPN Stats and Information dug up an incredible statistic from Horschel's second round. Actually, incredible might be an understatement:
Ray also chimed in on Horschel's round, showing us just how far above the average his play was.
It seems that every year and in every major, a player like Horschel bursts onto the scene who not many golf fans have heard of and creates buzz heading into the weekend.
All too often, those players fade quickly on Saturday's moving day and Sunday's final round. But when they save their best golf for last, new stars are born.
Could Horschel be one of those next stars, or will he fade like so many before him?
One thing is for sure, though. Merion doesn't seem to be cooperating with any golfer who is looking to have himself a big weekend.
There have been plenty of talking points so far at Merion in this year's U.S. Open. Tiger is in search of ending a five-year drought. Lefty is going for his first ever win in America's championship. Course conditions and a daunting setup at Merion are proving to have a big impact on players.
But if the play of Horschel and the unpredictability of this year's action is any indication, more storylines are bound to start brewing as Saturday and Sunday roll around.
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