MEDINAH, ILL., JUNE 15 -- Bright sunshine and a warm breeze bathed Medinah Country Club, turning greens a bit slicker, fairways a bit harder. This was the day the U.S. Open might have become the high-wire act almost every golfer had predicted it would be.

Yet a day after a record 39 golfers broke par, Tim Simpson led a parade of 48 -- and counting as darkness neared -- subpar scores in today's second round.

Simpson shot a steady three-under-par 69 for a two-day total of 135 and a one-stroke lead over Jeff Sluman. Mike Donald was two shots back, Hale Irwin and Scott Simpson were each four behind. With his round yet incomplete, Mark Brooks was just one off the pace.

This was not the Medinah many people expected to play and wasn't the Medinah golfers saw in the practice rounds. But it may not be as easy as the scores look. The greens were still damp from Wednesday night's rains, but rain didn't change the tight fairways and odd pin placements that make the U.S. Open special.

Curtis Strange, the two-time defending champion now trailing by eight after a 70, said the course was "absolutely perfect. She's there to be taken advantage of."

Tim Simpson began the day tied for first with Sluman and Scott Simpson, the 1987 champion, who fell back with a 73. He separated himself from them by birdieing three of the final six holes with a brilliant mixture of long, straight drives and a careful short game.

His day began with a bogey on the second hole. But he walked over to the 412-yard No. 3 and knocked in a 40-foot birdie putt. He made a 30-footer to save par on the 445-yard sixth and an 18-footer for a birdie on the 436-yard 16th.

He twice hit shots into the trees, but looked almost magic in stepping up and getting the ball back in the fairway or on the green.

Simpson was terrific on a day when many others weren't. The 145 cut mark, one over par, was one of the lowest in U.S. Open history and a lot of big names, including Jack Nicklaus, Greg Norman and Tom Kite, barely survived to play the weekend rounds.

"I had to do some scrambling," Tim Simpson said. "I made a couple of good putts to stay in it. I found out the trees aren't where you want to go."

Having never been in serious contention in a major tournament, he nonetheless has seen how the final two days wear on others, which he seemed to be referring to when he said: "I feel comfortable leading. I'm not scared. I'm going to try to play my game. Well, with some moderation. There are times you just have to play to the middle of the greens, and I've done that quite well."

It's a remarkable transformation for a golfer who modeled his game on that of Lanny Wadkins, one of the tour's swashbuckling hitters who has not done well on the Open obstacle courses.

Simpson admits his tendency is to shoot for every pin, to challenge every turn and to have more fun than prize money. That's probably one reason he went from 56th on the PGA money list in 1988 to sixth ($761,000) last year.

"It takes some people longer to reach their prime years and it has taken me a while," he said. "I'll tell you, I could use the trophy a lot more than the {$220,000 first-prize} money. You get the trophy, you'll get the money."

Sluman -- 5-foot-7 Jeff Sluman of Rochester, N.Y. -- may not rattle many memory banks either. The 1988 PGA Championship is his lone tour victory, and his ride near the top of this leader board very nearly came apart several times today.

He didn't bogey a hole for a second straight round, but his putter rescued him again and again, especially on the 402-yard No. 11, where he needed a 15-footer to save par, and on the 462-yard 12th, where he needed a 20-footer.

"Believe me, I was happy to get off the course with 70," he said. "My putter was a pretty good friend today. But there are still two days left."

Only one day was needed to gobble up Scott Simpson, who bogeyed five of the final 10 holes. He missed a three-footer on No. 9, three-putted from six feet on No. 12 and was off the fairway on 13, 16 and 18.

"I hit a couple of bad shots and missed some putts," he said. "I still feel in pretty good shape. You just have to keep going in the U.S. Open. If this was my one bad round, I'm in pretty good shape."

He repeated several of the things he'd said after a first-round 66: Be patient, don't get rattled, the U.S. Open is unlike any other tournament.

"You're going to have some bad holes in this tournament," he said.

And bad weeks. Strange came here hoping to become the first man in 85 years to win three consecutive Opens. He says the pressure of that challenge has stalked him for almost a year and has caused a chronic nervous stomach to flare up.

Then, worst of all, his putting touch has left him. Strange had a chance to get himself back into contention this day, but he missed at least four makeable putts that had him struggling to make the cut.

He kept himself barely in range by sinking a 20-footer on the 429-yard No. 9 and a 40-footer on the 440-yard closing hole.

"I'd have to shoot two good rounds to get in it, but you never know," he said. "The cut was on my mind most of the day. I might not be putting well tomorrow, but it was there on the final holes today."

Sluman missed the cut in three of his four U.S. Opens and finished 62nd in the other. He was 66th at the Western Open last week and 37th at the Kemper two weeks ago.

Yet he has hit the ball straight here, played a dangerous course conservatively and knocked in a half-dozen saving putts.

He entered only 23 events last year because of a bad shoulder and an emergency appendectomy. His shoulder remains bad enough that he begins his day with a therapy session by a tour doctor.

The day began badly for him when he needed a five-foot putt to save par. He needed a five-footer on the 434-yard fourth, then got the two big ones on 11 and 12. He birdied 16 and the par-3 signature 17th, then sank a six-foot putt to save par on 18.

"Today was fairly similar to yesterday," Sluman said. "I didn't make a bogey and when I needed a putt, I was able to convert it."

He said the course "was still a little damp. The fairways were firmer, but not to the point where you get into trouble. When you're putting and chipping well, you can take a few chances."

Not all the names on the leader board were unfamiliar. Seve Ballesteros birdied four of the final nine holes and put up a 69 for a two-day total of 142 -- seven shots behind the leaders.

He too must have been wondering what the cut would be after his bogey on No. 9 left him two over par. But he birdied 10, 11 and 14 and sank a 20-footer for another on 17.

"I turned a mediocre round into a pretty good one," he said. "Unless the rain shows up again, this golf course will become more and more difficult. I don't believe anyone will come in Sunday at seven under."