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U.S. Open: Leading After 36 Holes Doesn't Often Equal a Trophy on Sunday

Ron FurlongAnalyst IIJune 19, 2010

PEBBLE BEACH, CA - JUNE 18:  Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland celebrates a birdie putt on the fourth green during the second round of the 110th U.S. Open at Pebble Beach Golf Links on June 18, 2010 in Pebble Beach, California.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
Jeff Gross/Getty Images

Leading after two rounds of the U.S. Open sounds like a nice place to be, but not so fast. Very rarely, at least in recent history, does the leader after 36 holes go on to win the tournament.

In the last six years of the U.S. Open, from 2004 through 2009, only one player who had the second round lead won the tournament.

That was Angel Cabrera in 2007. Interestingly, Cabrera lost the lead after the third day, then came roaring back to the win the tournament on Sunday.

In 2004 Phil Mickelson led after 36 and didn't win. Same in 2005 with the three guys tied for the lead, Olin Browne, Retief Goosen and Jason Gore. In 2006 it was Steve Stricker who couldn't make the 36-hole lead last. A couple years ago it was Stuart Appleby, and last year at Bethpage Black Ricky Barnes was on top after Friday.

There is probably a few reasons why this trend exists. One may be simply because it is such a demanding tournament. No doubt the most demanding of all year in and year out.

The USGA chooses difficult golf courses, like Pebble Beach and Bethpage Black, and then makes these extremely difficult courses as hard as they can. Growing the rough up and thickening it; speeding up the greens; stretching the holes to their longest.

It is exhausting to play a tournament like this. It is twice as exhausting to lead a tournament like this. The pressure of leading the U.S. Open and then trying to hold that lead under the most difficult conditions possible is not for the faint of heart.

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So, not to put a damper on Graeme McDowell's great couple of rounds on Thursday and Friday (a 71 and a 68), but, well, it just doesn't bode well for him. In fact, over the last six years it has been better to be in second or third after Friday than in first.

Twice, in those last six years we talked about, the player in second place won the tournament; Tiger Woods in 2008 and Geoff Ogilivy in 2006. This is compared to, as mentioned, only Angel Cabrera winning the Open (2007) after leading at the half-way point, the only player to do that in the last six years.

So, we may want to check the leader board as we head into the weekend and see who is in second place.

It's a four way tie. Ernie Els, Dustin Johnson, 18-year-old Ryo Ishikawa and a fellow named Phil. Hhhmmmm.

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