Former champion McDowell ready to put brutal Merion rounds behind him at US Open

  • Article by: DAN GELSTON , AP Sports Writer
  • Updated: June 14, 2013 - 9:35 PM

ARDMORE, Pa. — Phil Mickelson knew it was going to be close, so he made sure his group could finish the second round of the U.S. Open on Friday.

The rule when a round is halted because of darkness is that players have the option to complete a hole.

Mickelson, Steve Stricker and Keegan Bradley were on the 17th with the sun falling fast when Lefty spoke to Dustin Johnson in the group ahead of them.

"We told DJ and his caddie, Keith Sbarbaro, we may hit one shot and they looked out for it," Mickelson said.

Mickelson and Stricker were still on the 17th green when Bradley went over to the 18th green. The Johnson group, still in the fairway, moved to the side so Bradley could hit his tee shot. If the horn were to sound, Mickelson's group would be able to play the final hole because at least one player (Bradley) had teed off on the 18th.

"They moved out of the way, and Keegan hit a tee shot, and they went back and finished the hole," Mickelson said. "It was nice of them so we could finish."

It turned out they didn't need to rush. The horn didn't sound until everyone in Mickelson's group was on the 18th hole. Mickelson made a 20-foot birdie for a 72 to share the clubhouse lead. Stricker got up-and-down from 40 yards short of the green for a par. He shot 69 and was one shot behind.

Bradley had no chance of making the cut. That's why it didn't matter that he rushed over to play his tee shot on the 18th.

It was critical for the top players to finish, and that included the group behind — Justin Rose, Matt Kuchar and Brandt Snedeker.

Rose made par for a 69 and joined Stricker at one shot behind.

Because the second round won't finish until Saturday morning, the last few groups of the third round likely won't tee off until mid-afternoon. The last thing anyone wanted to do — particularly Mickelson, Stricker, Rose — was to return to Merion at the crack of dawn to play one hole, and then come back some eight hours later.

"We had to wait about two or three minutes on the tee," Rose said. "And I was getting nervous. Kuch ... suddenly grabbed the club and he was ready. That was definitely taking one for the team."

___

Graeme McDowell has already moved on to other majors.

He may as well. McDowell's is out of the hunt for a second career U.S. Open championship.

McDowell, the 2010 champ, was 7 over after a 77 on Friday in the second round at Merion Golf Club.

"I'm temporarily dejected," he said. "This game is not about your bad weeks. Of course, it's about the major championships, and you're trying to prepare yourself as well as you can coming into weeks like this.

"I'll shake it off and I'll get ready for The Open Championship in a few weeks time. That's my next target. The Irish Open and the French Open between then. I'll be competitively sharp going into Muirfield and I'll continue to draw on this season."

McDowell had double bogeys on the 10th, 11th, 17th and 18th holes. He posted just three birdies in the second round.

"It's not the way I wanted to play the last couple of days," he said. "But this place is very hard."

___

PAN'S MOVE: The surprise of Friday's play at the U.S. Open were a pair of amateurs — Michael Kim of Cal and Cheng-Tsung Pan of Taiwan. They were 2 under for their round and among those who didn't finish.

Pan must finish his round Saturday morning. He had two birdies and no bogeys to zip into a tie for third place at even par. Kim is 1-over so far and tied for eighth.

Pan, a 21-year-old from Taiwan, is a junior at the University of Washington. He missed the cut in his other Open appearance in 2011, saying he was too excited and had too many distractions to play his best game.

This time, Pan said he embraced the pressure that comes along with a major.

"I feel I belong to that kind of place," he said. "I'm not saying I'm good enough, but I love this kind of feeling and the competition is great. I just want to be here always."

____

DONALD'S DAY: Luke Donald holed out a chip for birdie on the short par-3 13th to reach 4 under and top the leaderboard in the U.S. Open.

Not for long.

He bogeyed Nos. 4-7 to totally spoil his round Friday. Donald was at 4 under Thursday before play was suspended, and finished with a 2-under 68 on Friday. He added a 72 in the second round to leave him even par for the tournament.

The English star had a run of five bogeys in six holes on his back nine in the second round.

"The greens have been tricky to read all week," he said. "They seem to be breaking a little bit more than I'm seeing, hence a couple of lip outs. But you try not to panic in U.S. Opens."

Donald, playing in his 10th U.S., has never won a major. The former world No. 1 played a pair of practice rounds last week at Merion to get used to the course. He even posed for a photo with David Graham, winner of the 1981 U.S. Open at Merion.

"I asked him, 'What's the secret?'" Donald said. "And he said, 'Keep it in the short stuff.' Obviously, I think most of us know that and it's all about doing it."

The 35-year-old Donald failed to make the cut last year in the U.S. Open at the Olympic Club in San Francisco because of putting failures. He has never finished better than 12th in an Open (2006) and missed the cut three times since his 2002 debut. He was 45th in 2011 and 47th in 2010.

Donald and Lee Westwood are the only players to be No. 1 without having won a major.

He's glad to at least be in the hunt this year.

"I haven't played very well, but when I saw this place last week, I thought it was a good fit for my game," he said. "It's nice to come here and feel like I'm swinging pretty well and I've got a chance. So, hopefully, I can throw a good one in tomorrow and really be in the mix come Sunday."

_____

DOUBLE DIP: Carl Pettersson saw double on No. 5.

Pettersson had to check his backswing after an errant shot from No. 2 rolled his way and smacked his ball off its spot. Pettersson stopped his swing and backed off the ball, chuckling at the truly bizarre shot.

The wayward ball came from Brandon Crick. He had to hit from where the ball landed.

Pettersson placed the ball at its original spot. He probably wished his ball was whacked into the cup — he had a bogey on the par-5 hole.

"Luckily, I wasn't in my downswing, because if I would have missed the ball, it would have been, I don't know what the ruling would have been on that," he said. "But it might not have been good. I regripped and hit a decent shot after that."

_____

LAWRIE HONOR: Paul Lawrie fought back with a 71 and feared he would miss the cut. The day wasn't a total loss. Hours later, the former British Open champion was among those selected for the Order of the British Empire in the Queen's Birthday Honors.

More that his performance on the course, the Scot was recognized for his foundation that helps pay for kids to get into sport. It started with golf and now includes soccer, rugby and some tennis.

"I wanted to do it before I won the Open, but I didn't think I was a big enough name and didn't think sponsors would be interested or the kids would want to participate in the events," Lawrie said. "All of a sudden, I win the Open. It's getting pretty big and growing every year, but I have to say a lot of people do a lot of good work."

Lawrie holds the major championship record for the largest comeback in the final round, making up 10 shots in the final round at Carnoustie in 1999, and beating Jean Van de Velde and Justin Leonard in a playoff.

"It's a huge honor," Lawrie said.

_____

LOCAL FAVORITE: Jim Furyk had the home crowd on his side.

He just failed to deliver a performance worth cheering for Friday.

Furyk, born in the nearby Philly suburb of West Chester and raised in Lancaster, shot a 9-over 79. Furyk, the 2003 U.S. Open champion, won't be adding a second one to the collection. He hadn't played Merion Golf Club since the 1989 U.S. Amateur.

"It showed," he said. "I didn't do a great job with my prep. I felt like I was ready coming here but I obviously played very poorly. It was probably my last putting performance in the last three or four years."

For years, Furyk hosted the one-day Exelon Invitational at various stops throughout the state. His event was the only professional golf even that the Philadelphia area had on a yearly basis.

He hasn't held the informal exhibition since 2009 and doesn't expect it to return. And he doesn't know when he'll play again in the area.

"I never really played well at the tournaments here," he said. "It's a bummer. I crossed the state at Oakmont for a couple of championships. At 43, there's not going to be another tournament here at Merion."

_____

DIVOTS: Stuck in the mud: Tiger Woods' ski-champion girlfriend Lindsey Vonn had to trek through the mud at Merion like any other fan. "Sums up my day on the golf course... # muddy # usopen2013," she wrote on Twitter. The tweet went along with a photo of her from the knees down standing ankle-deep in the soupy muck. She later posted a Vine video of various muddy shoes and boots around the course. "Muddy shoes... Best and worst so far. # whatweretheythinking."

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