|Tiger Woods during the second round of the US Open,
in San Francisco, on Friday. (AFP)
San Francisco: At most tour stops, par is the loneliest number. Like the interstate speed limit, it’s a signpost to be routinely ignored by golfers in a rush to reach the winner’s circle. Not this week.
Not at the Olympic Club, a 7,170-yard speed trap set up to ensnare competitors at the 112th US Open.
After two rounds, Tiger Woods, Jim Furyk and David Toms were the only players in the field of 156 under par at the Lake Course, sharing the 36-hole lead at one-under 139. Furyk, the 2003 Open champion, carded a 69 on Friday with three birdies and two bogeys.
He had signed his scorecard by the time Woods, a three-time Open champion, made his first swing in his round of 70, a score matched by Toms, who won the 2001 PGA Championship.
“What I’ve done well this week is concentrate,” Toms said. “I can’t think of one shot in the first 36 holes where I didn’t feel like I either had a target or a thought as far as where I wanted to hit a ball, a target that I wanted to hit to, where I wanted to land the ball out of the rough, which I have hard time with sometimes. Sometimes my mind wanders a little bit.”
Two strokes back, at one over, was a group that included Graeme McDowell, the 2010 Open champion, who shot a 72, and the first-round leader, Michael Thompson (75).
Woods, who is aiming for his 15th Major title and his first since the 2008 US Open, has won eight of nine Majors when he has had at least a share of the 36-hole lead. “Well, that was not easy,” he said.
“That golf course was some kind of quick. It got dried out. The wind was swirling a little bit out there. It was tough. It was really, really tough. Just had to stay as patient as possible, and I did a really good job at that today.”
He started the day three strokes behind Thompson after an opening 69 that many people believed was the worst score he could have recorded given how well he was striking the ball.
Different day, different story; Woods’ Friday round easily could have been several strokes higher if not for a couple of improbable recovery shots and a few clutch putts.
At one point, the leader board was golf’s version of Two-and-a-Half Men, with Furyk and Woods sharing the spotlight with the 17-year-old Beau Hossler, an Angus T. Jones lookalike who took the outright lead, at two-under, with a birdie on his 11th hole.
Hossler, a Southern California kid who started on No. 9, played his next five holes — Nos. 2 through 6 — in five over to slide down the leader board.
He hung tough, carding a 73 for a two-day total of plus-3 that invoked the ghost of Harvie Ward, a California-bred amateur who tied for seventh at the first U.S. Open held here, in 1955.
Asked what he would have thought if someone had told him a 17-year-old would be contending in the Open, Hossler replied, “I would probably tell them they’re nuts.”
Hossler, a rising senior at Santa Margarita High who has verbally committed to Texas, qualified for last year’s Open and missed the cut with rounds of 76 and 77 at Congressional Country Club. That experience was a valuable steppingstone, he said, adding that his recent performances augured well for this week.
“I got second at the state championship for high school, shot three-under 68 there,” he said. “Came in fourth at the Thunderbird. Before that, I had really been playing well.”
Rory McIlroy, who obliterated the field at Congressional, winning by eight strokes, was among the weekend casualties. He carded a second-round 73 for a two-day total of plus 10 to miss the cut by two strokes. Luke Donald, the No. 1 player in the world, also failed to advance chasing his opening 79 with a 72 to finish 11 over.
Phil Mickelson, who has never won the Open but finished second five times, appeared in jeopardy of missing the cut after opening with a 76. He rebounded with a 71 to secure, by one stroke, a spot in the weekend.
Bubba Watson, the reigning Masters champion, carded a 71 on Friday and was within 10 strokes of the lead, at plus-9. So were Lucas Glover, the 2009 US Open titlist, and Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 British Open champion.
In years past, they would have been assured berths in the weekend. But the USGA championship committee chose to eliminate the 10-stroke rule this year. As a result, all three players found themselves on the wrong side of the cut line, which was set to accommodate the top 60 players plus ties.
Mike Davis, the executive director of the USGA, said there were concerns about weekend fields of more than 100 players necessitating groups of three for the final two rounds or sending groups of two off both tees, neither of which is ideal for television coverage. “And we didn’t want to do that for a US Open,” Davis said.
For years, he added, the rule remained in effect in what amounted to a nod to Ernie Els, who in 1993 advanced to the weekend on the 10-shot rule and finished tied for seventh to secure a spot in the 1994 event, which he went on to win.
What will it take to emerge victorious this weekend? “You got to play Jim Furyk golf,” said McDowell, who was paired with Furyk for the first two rounds.
“I watched yesterday, and I watched it again today. Doesn’t take chances he doesn’t have to take on. He gets it back in the fairway. He putts well. Holes out well. Takes his chances when it comes. And that’s my type of golf as well.”
Several players who teed off in the morning said it appeared the course had been watered overnight so red numbers might sprout like mushrooms.
By mid-afternoon, a light breeze and ample sunshine had dried out the fairways and greens, limiting the number of rounds in the 60s to seven. McDowell was asked what he expected the winning score to be Sunday.
“Levelish,” he said. “I don’t see it getting much away from that.” He added, “It’s up to the U.S.G.A., really. They can have whatever they want with it.”
If he could plead his case to Davis, what would he say?
“Be nice to us,” McDowell said.