Merion Golf Club's East Course bared its fangs on Friday, putting the world's best golfers on notice at the 2013 U.S. Open. At one point near the end of the action on Friday evening, only one player was under par, as noted by ESPN:
There's only ONE person (Billy Horschel) currently under par at the #USOpen.
Translation = Merion is ridiculously difficult.
By the time the horn sounded late in the evening, only two golfers finished under par. Phil Mickelson and Billy Horschel share the lead heading into Saturday's action at one under par, and just five other golfers can claim even-par status.
Though the venue was hit with a few overnight showers, it's clear the golf course has been prepared with fastidious care and will continue to dry out and speed up as the weekend wears on. Even after torrential rain hammered the course the week prior to the tournament, fairways and greens were looking quite U.S. Open-like on Friday afternoon.
As conditions continue to become increasingly difficult on Saturday and Sunday, only the golfers playing at the top of their games will have any chance of winning on the difficult track that is Merion's East Course.
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Here were the biggest surprises from Friday's action.
Billy Horschel Was Brilliant
Horschel came out of nowhere to post the best score of the second round and claim the lead with Mickelson heading into the weekend. Afterwards, he spoke to reporters about the tournament and where he stood, per the PGA Tour:
For the week, Horschel has hit 31 of 35 fairways to lead the field (86.11 percent GIR).
While many of the world's best golfers were shooting themselves in the foot left and right with bogeys or worse, Horschel has been playing steady golf. Through two rounds, he's posted just four bogeys to contrast his five birdies.
Don't expect him to wilt playing next to Mickelson on Saturday, either. According to Jason Sobel of the Golf Channel, sports psychologist Fran Pirozzolo says Horschel isn't afraid of failure:
Sports psychologist Fran Pirozzolo on Billy Horschel: "Too many players are scared to death about failure. Billy isn’t that kind of guy."
Horschel may have surprised the field on Friday, but he may not be finished. Don't be shocked if he continues to play well at Merion over the weekend.
Amateur Cheng-Tsung Pan In Contention
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When the horn sounded to end the second round late in the evening on Friday, Pan was in the midst of a gorgeous stretch of play. He was also tied for third place at even par, as noted by the Bradenton Herald:
The junior out of the University of Washington is making a serious run at winning this tournament, and he's outplaying the likes of Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy in the process.
Through nine holes, Pan has logged seven pars and two birdies in his second round, and his overall game seems well-suited for the conditions at Merion.
As a result of Thursday's delays, Pan's second round didn't kick off until well into the afternoon. Rather than sit around and let his nerves get the better of him, he reportedly went out to the movies to watch Man of Steel, as reported by Todd Milles:
UW golfer Cheng-Tsung Pan passed time before his late 2nd round Friday at 113th U.S. Open by watching "Man of Steel." #HowAboutSteelyNerves
This young man is a cool customer, and he's in great shape to make a run up the leaderboard this weekend if he can continue playing well.
Adam Scott and Lee Westwood Hover Near Projected Cut Line
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While the first two surprises centered around men who played above expectations, there were some other surprises that were of a different nature.
Biggest surprise from Round 2 was...
Biggest surprise from Round 2 was...
Billy Horschel tied for the lead.
Cheng-Tsung Pan tied for third place.
Westwood and Scott's poor play.
Scott won the Masters this year and who put together a nice start to the tournament, but he's in danger of missing the projected cut of seven over par.
Westwood has finished in the top 10 the past two years in U.S. Opens, but he, like Scott, came dangerously close to missing the cut.
Both men posted abysmal rounds on Friday—Scott with a score of 75 and Westwood with a score of 77—to finish the second round at seven over par. If someone comes out hot in the morning and gets it to two under par, they could potentially miss the cut.