US Open 2013: Previewing Steve Stricker's 3rd Round at Merion

Daniel ZhuContributor IJune 15, 2013

ARDMORE, PA - JUNE 13:  Steve Stricker of the United States hits his tee shot on the 11th hole during Round One of the 113th U.S. Open at Merion Golf Club on June 13, 2013 in Ardmore, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images)
Drew Hallowell/Getty Images

After a brutally long day of golf on Friday at the 113th U.S. Open Championship that tested every golfer's ability, physique and mentality, Steve Stricker, the 46-year-old veteran, managed to grind out a one-under-par 69 in his second round en route to being even par for the championship and just one off the pace set by Phil Mickelson and Billy Horschel.

Stricker carded only one of the few rounds under par at Merion on Friday, and he did so with a solid short game and good course management.

He navigated Merion expertly, placing his tee shots safely in the fairway and capitalizing on the shorter holes by dialing in on his wedges and short irons. He made his fair share of putts, with birdies on holes two, eight and 13, but he stumbled uncharacteristically on the par-four 15th with a three-putt bogey.

Stricker made a stellar up-and-down for par at the long and difficult par-four 18th to end his round on a decent note as he gets ready to go out and tee it up once again on moving day.

Stricker, who is just one back of the lead, is certainly in contention for his first major, and at 46 years old, he is definitely due for one.

Saturday's third round will seem to be an even more daunting challenge as the weather warms up, turning Merion, an already difficult golf course, into an even more difficult track with faster and harder conditions that will really test the best golfers in the world.

Along these toughening conditions, Merion also displays its narrow tree-lined fairways and thick U.S. Open rough that have been giving players all kinds of trouble.

The scoring average for Round 2 was 75.17, more than five strokes over par, and will no doubt continue to get higher as the week progresses.

However, if Stricker can continue to put the ball in the fairway and attack some of the shorter holes with his short irons to set up some birdie opportunities on Saturday, then another sub-par round is definitely doable for Stricker.

He is currently sixth in greens hit in regulation and seventh in total birdies made, and he is attacking Merion the right way. Of his seven birdies, five of them have come on the shorter par fours that play to Stricker's strengths, requiring a well-placed tee shot and a well-struck wedge or short iron into the green.

If Stricker can continue to play the type of golf he has played through the first two rounds, taking advantage on holes seven through 13 with his strong short game, and manage to grind for pars on the more brutal holes, he will be right in the hunt come Sunday afternoon in search for that elusive first major title.