Pinehurst No. 2 continued to frustrate all but a few during the second round of the 105th U.S. Open on Friday. On a day when Phil Mickelson had his worst Open score since 1994 on a course teetering on the brink of being unplayable, it figured that one of the most unflappable players in the game, defending champion Retief Goosen, would share the lead with two of the more surprising names on the board, native Washingtonian Olin Browne and obscure journeyman Jason Gore.
All three managed to cope with greens that often rejected even well-struck shots. The same could not be said for former PGA Championship winner David Toms, who was tied for the lead with two holes to play until he finished with a double bogey and a triple bogey to go from 3 under for the tournament to 2 over.
"It's hard work and it works on your nerves," said Goosen, already a two-time Open champion. "Every hole is pretty much a grind out there."
Many players continue to predict that an above par score could win this Open, though the three leaders finished at 2-under 138. Gore, who plays on the Nationwide Tour and is competing in just his second Open, shot a stunning 3-under 67 Friday, culminated by a brilliant blast from a greenside bunker that stopped a foot from the cup on his final hole, the 175-yard ninth. He posted one of only 13 rounds in the 60s Friday, four more than the field registered Thursday, but only five players were under par over 36 holes.
Goosen managed an even-par 70 that included three birdies and three bogeys, and Browne recorded a 71 despite struggling with his driver and very nearly making a triple bogey at the treacherous 220-yard No. 6 until "I tapped in a 20-footer" to salvage double-bogey 5. The trio at the top had a one-shot lead on South Korean K.J. Choi (70) and Australian Mark Hensby (68), who made a 10-foot birdie putt at the 18th to get himself into the red numbers.
"This course will kick your butt, plain and simple," Browne said when he finished late this afternoon. "I think everybody is going to confront a catastrophe out here somewhere, and it just happened to be my turn [at number six]. The truth of the matter is that the course giveth and the course taketh back, and it took back there."
The Donald Ross-designed course took from just about everyone Friday. The scoring average was 73.7 and all but two holes, the third and fourth, averaged above par from the field.
Tiger Woods got so frustrated at missing a 10-foot putt for par at the ninth hole, he raked his putter on the green in anger, risking a possible penalty for a breach of etiquette. Woods tried to repair the damage after his momentary petulance and Tom Meeks, the U.S. Golf Association's senior director of rules and competitions, said in a statement that "the one-time occurrence would not qualify as a 'serious breach.' Therefore, no action has been taken against Woods."
"I was [angry]. I run the first one about 20 feet [past the hole for bogey] on number six, and then that one [on number nine] about 10 feet," Woods said. "God I really wanted that one. I wasn't exactly happy with myself. I just roughed up the green and went back and mowed it back down again."
Woods needed 34 putts this day, and also had to have his shirt slit open under the right arm by caddie Steve Williams after his opening tee shot because it was a tad too tight. His round of 71 left him at 1-over 141, three behind the leaders.
Several other big-name players have also exhibited the sort of patience necessary to remain in the fray. Vijay Singh, No. 2 in the world behind Woods, had a second straight 70 and was at even-par 140 along with Sergio Garcia, who won the Booz Allen Classic at Congressional last Sunday and made an 18-foot birdie putt on his final hole, No. 9, to shoot 69.
"I feel like I'm in a great position right now," Singh said. "The golf course is not getting any easier. If I can go out and figure out the pace of the greens, start out strong tomorrow, we'll see what happens."
Mickelson will have to come out like Hercules to get back into the fray after an almost inexplicable round of 7-over 77 that left him at 6-over 146, eight off the lead. Mickelson played the back nine first and made six bogeys on that side for a 41. He missed five putts within five feet in his worst Open round since a 79 on Sunday at Oakmont in 1994.
"I didn't feel like I played that badly," he said. "Then I hit a lot of good shots where I wanted to that didn't quite end up where I was hoping. The biggest thing was putting, because I had been putting pretty well. I hit them on line, I just didn't either read them right or get the right speed."
Mickelson, normally an aggressive player by nature, especially when he needs to make up ground, also knows he has a major quandary over the weekend.
"It's a tough course to turn things around because you just can't make birdies," he said. "The more you try to make birdies, the more bogeys you're going to make. It's just so tough, everyone is going to struggle."
Browne's biggest challenge came at the sixth hole, which gave up only seven birdies in the second round. Browne hit his tee shot into the left bunker, into a poor lie in the sand. He blasted out, only to watch his ball hit beyond the flag and run into a bunker on the right side. He blasted again, this time watching his ball scoot across the green, fall off and run down into the chipping area. His fourth shot left him with a tough 20-footer, but he ran it right into the center of the cup.
"I got away with murder on that hole," he said. "At that point, I was just trying not to make a big number. Five is a big number, but under the circumstances, it wasn't. . . . I don't have any delusions about what's happening. I know there's plenty of golf left, and this course is just going to be nasty and brutal come the weekend."