ARDMORE, Pennsylvania: England’s Luke Donald and unlikely American Billy Horschel were second-round US Open clubhouse leaders on Friday while Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy grinded to stay in the title hunt.
As Merion tested golf’s best it was Horschel, who missed the cut at the 2006 US Open in his only prior major, that fired a three-under par 67 to finish 36 holes on one-under 139, one stroke in front of former world number one Donald.
“It was a great day,” Horschel said. “Four birdies at a US Open. I’ll take it. I wish I had a couple more, though.”
He might need them. Phil Mickelson, a four-time major champion and five-time US Open runner-up, was on the course at two-under with England’s Justin Rose at one-under. Each had 14 formidable holes to play.
Horschel, who won his first PGA title two months ago in New Orleans, birdied the par-5 second and par-4 10th and 11th holes. He took his lone bogey at the par-3 13th but closed with a birdie to top the 36-hole finishers.
“Everything seems good,” he said. “I’ve just got to stay patient and keep committing and executing every shot and I’ll be OK on Sunday.
“The pins were a lot more tucked. They were difficult to get to,” Donald said. “I didn’t play the par-5s well. The other bogeys I didn’t feel I made too many mistakes. It’s just a tough golf course.”
Donald, seeking his first major title in an event where he has never cracked the top 10, made four bogeys in a row and five in six holes on the front nine after starting on the back, but held his nerve and birdied the ninth.
“You try not to panic in US Opens. You just take it as it comes,” Donald said. “You are going to make mistakes. I’ve got to minimize those mistakes over the next two days.”
World number one Woods, a 14-time major champion seeking his first major title since the 2008 US Open, fired a second-round 70 to finish 36 holes on 143, only four off Horschel’s clubhouse lead.
That left Woods level with world number two Rory McIlroy, reigning British Open champion Ernie Els and Spain’s Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano.
“I just made a couple of mistakes out there today but I really played well,” Woods said. “Maybe I could have gotten one or two more out of it, but it was a pretty good day.”
Woods said he continues to feel pain in his left arm after blasting out of dense rough in Thursday’s first round, saying he aggravated an injury suffered while on his way to winning the Players Championship last month.
“It is what it is,” Woods said.
Woods, who seeks a record-tying fourth US Open triumph but has never won when over-par for 36 holes, began on the back side and birdied the 13th only to stumble with bogeys at 14 and 18. Birdies at the second and fourth lifted him but he botched a greenside chip to bogey the par-4 seventh.
Playing alongside Woods and Masters champion Adam Scott of Australia in the feature group was McIlroy, who also went 73-70.
“I’m very happy, right in there for the weekend,” McIlroy said. “In a nice position going into the last two days.”
McIlroy opened with back-to-back birdies at 11 and 12, made bogeys at 14 and the first, then followed a birdie at the third and a bogey at the fourth. A birdie at the eighth was followed by a bogey at the ninth.
“It’s not just you that’s struggling out there, it’s everyone else,” McIlroy said. “It’s just one of those places where par is a great score.”
Scott began a run of four bogeys in a row at the par-3 third and had seven in all on his way to a second-round 76 that left him on 148 and unlikely to make the cut, which will not come until round two is finished on Saturday.
Two other Aussies were among the clubhouse leaders. Mathew Goggin went 68-74 to stand on 142 while John Senden fired a second-round 71 to reach 141. He credited deep rough for brutal scores.
“It’s because of the difficulty when you miss,” Senden said. “The rough is so long here. It’s just demanding. If you miss, you are really scrambling. It demands all parts of your game being great.”