US Open: Graeme McDowell leads as Phil Mickelson surges
Second round leaderboard: -3 G McDowell (NI) -1 D Johnson (US), E Els (SA), R Ishikawa (Jpn), P Mickelson (US) Level A Cejka (Ger), P Casey (Eng), B De Jonge (Zim), J Kelly (US) Selected others: +1 I Poulter (Eng) +3 L Westwood (Eng), R McGowan (Eng) +4 T Woods (US), L Donald (Eng), P Harrington (Ire) +6 R Davies (Wal), M Richardson (Eng) +7 S Garcia (Spa), G Maybin (NI), T Watson (US)
McDowell won the Wales Open at Celtic Manor this month
By Rob Hodgetts
Graeme McDowell seized the lead in round two of the US Open but Phil Mickelson surged back into contention on a chilly, grey day at Pebble Beach.
Northern Ireland's McDowell shot 68 to reach three under before the Masters champion barged his way into a tie for second at one under with a stunning 66.
Mickelson ended alongside Ernie Els, Dustin Johnson and Ryo Ishikawa with Paul Casey in a group at even par.
Ian Poulter (73) ended one over, while Tiger Woods carded 72 for four over.
The 30-year-old McDowell is full of confidence after winning the Wales Open earlier this month and fired six birdies to reach four under before his third bogey on his final hole trimmed his lead to two going into the weekend.
"I'm playing the golf of my life but there's a long way to go," he said.
"I'm swinging well and hitting the shots I see in my head. It's just keeping the ball under control. The conditions were scoreable this morning - the greens were receptive with little wind.
"I'm in a great position but I'm just going to keep doing my thing and see where I am on Sunday afternoon."
Mickelson, who has won three Masters titles and one US PGA Championship, has never lifted the US Open despite five runner-up spots, including at Bethpage last year.
And after a birdieless opening 75, Mickelson looked unlikely to make amends in California this week before picking up shots on the second, third, fourth, sixth and eighth in a charge reminiscent of his weekend play at Augusta in April..
I don't look at the leaderboard. I don't look at other players. I look at par
A bogey at nine checked his progress but Mickelson, who turned 40 on Wednesday, picked up another shot on the 11th before parring his way home.
"I'm in a good spot," said Mickelson, who could overtake Woods as world number one this week. "I made a lot of putts and don't feel like I left too many out there.
"I don't look at the leaderboard. I don't look at other players. I look at par. If you can stay around par, you're going to be in the tournament Sunday. That was kind of the goal."
Two-time US Open champion Els, who was a distant runner-up to Woods at Pebble Beach in 2000, improved his opening 73 by five shots with five birdies and two bogeys in the marquee group alongside Woods and Lee Westwood (71).
Mickelson has been a US Open runner-up five times
"It has been such a long time since I won one of these, but we've got a long way to go," said Els, who won the US Open in 1994 and 1997.
"Yesterday I wasn't in control of my putting stroke and emotions. Today I felt really good over the ball."
Big-hitter Johnson has won the last two PGA Tour events held at Pebble Beach and has translated his form on the softer February layout to the tighter, faster-running US Open set-up with rounds of 71, 70.
"Whenever you have success at a golf course you get a lot of confidence," Johnson said.
The 18-year-old Ishikawa, who shot a 58 two months ago in Japan - the lowest score ever on a major tour - hit a level-par 71 to also get to one under.
World number one Woods, bidding to win a fourth US Open and 15th major title, mixed four bogeys with three birdies but believes he is still in contention despite being seven shots adrift.
"I'm right there. I just need to keep progressing and keep moving my way up the board," he said.
I'd be lying if I hadn't thought about picking up the trophy on Sunday afternoon
McDowell posted his best US Open result of tied 18th in his fourth Championship at Bethpage last year and he admits that the event requires a mental readjustment.
"It's a different mindset," said McDowell, a five-time winner on the European Tour. "Out here it's not like a regular golf tournament where you're looking to shoot 15 or 20 under.
"It's a battle against the golf course. You've got to be patient and try to keep your emotions in check. The second you go chasing, this course beats you up. You have to accept your bogeys out here."
McDowell admitted his mind had drifted forward to becoming the first European since Tony Jacklin in 1970 to win the US Open.
"I'd be lying if I hadn't thought about picking up the trophy on Sunday afternoon," said the Portrush local.
"But I'm trying to be very realistic about it. I'm not seeing the battle as being with the rest of the field. I'm seeing the battle with myself and the golf course.
"I'm really trying to put no expectations on myself this weekend because, A, I know there's a lot of great players out here and B, this golf course is extremely difficult."
Watson chipped in on 17 on his way to victory at Pebble Beach in 1982
England's Casey, the joint overnight leader, carded 73, which included a triple-bogey eight on the treacherous par-five 14th, to slip back to level par alongside Zimbabwe's Brendon de Jonge, Germany's Alex Cejka and American Jerry Kelly.
Poulter began with two bogeys after starting from the 10th and also fell foul of the 14th, also taking eight, before showing impressive mental strength to pick up three birdies in a two-over 73.
Westwood, England's world number three, finished three over alongside countryman Ross McGowan (73), while world number six Luke Donald (75) was four over with Ireland's three-time major champion Padraig Harrington (73).
American veteran Tom Watson, who won the US Open at Pebble Beach in 1982, added a level-par 71 to his opening 78 for seven over to make the cut with no room to spare.
The eight-time major champion, who was handed a special exemption to play at the age of 60 following his runner-up spot in the Open at Turnberry last year, becomes the second-oldest player to make a US Open cut behind Sam Sneed, who played all four rounds at age 61 in 1973.
Wales' Rhys Davies, who won his maiden European Tour event in Morocco in March, fired a one-under 70 to go into the weekend at six over, the same score as Canada-based Englishman Matthew Richardson (75).
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