Mickelson sneaks into weekend at U.S. Open

Phil Mickelson during the second round of the U.S. Open Championship golf tournament Friday, June 15, 2012, at The Olympic Club in San Francisco.

SAN FRANCISCO – True, it lacked the heart-pumping drama of those Friday rounds that were to get into the lead of a U.S. Open, but Phil Mickelson’s 1-over 71 grabbed your attention.

It also got him into weekend play of this championship for the 20th time in 22 chances. That’s something Nos. 1 and 2 in the world order – Luke Donald and Rory McIlroy, respectively – can’t say, as each missed the cut, and badly.

Not the incomparable left-hander.

Pushed into scramble-mode by an opening 76 at The Olympic Club, Mickelson made things tougher on himself with two bogeys in his first six holes. He then birdied the par-4 seventh, but put down a sloppy bogey at the par-5 16th to settle in on what would be the cut, 8 over.

He didn’t have any shots to give, yet Mickelson didn’t help his cause when he missed a 12-foot birdie try at the par-5 17th. But he played the short 18th perfectly, his tee shot into the fairway followed by approach to 10 feet and a closing birdie. True, he may have sneaked in under the cut, but the reality is, Mickelson is there, something he wasn’t sure would happen.

“My goal was to shoot under par,” he said. “I had multiple chances, and I was fractionally off on the greens. I just didn’t make any (putts) until the last putt.”

The left-hander has made 11 consecutive cuts in the majors, tied with Charl Schwartzel for best. (Schwartzel shot 73-70 and will begin the weekend T-9, just four behind.)

The chase to make a cut is a weekly story on the PGA Tour, but when it’s a major, it’s double the interest. But this year, the storyline opened more eyes because for the first time in memory, the USGA didn’t go with the 10-shot rule. Instead, low 60 and ties made the cut and that meant 72 players will tee it up Saturday and Sunday.

Had players within 10 of the lead been in, as they have always been, a whopping 94 would have made the cut.

There was a mixed bag when players were asked about the rule change. Some said they didn’t know it, and many acknowledged they did. Few, however, made it an issue and for good reason: when nearly half the starting field (72 of 156) makes the cut, it seems greedy to say more should have been let in.

Mickelson wasn’t the only story of those who rallied to make it into Rounds 3 and 4. Among those who followed poor starts with solid rounds were Steve Stricker (76-68) and Padraig Harrington (74-70), both of whom will start Saturday at 4 over, just five back. Adam Scott backed up a 76 with a 70 to make it in, Keegan Bradley advanced with matching 73s and Bo Van Pelt shot 78-70 to make it.

There were a number of spirited comebacks to make the cut on the number (8-over 148), none more intriguing than Rickie Fowler's. Starting the day 2 over, he tripled the first, doubled the third, and was 8 over for his round and 10 over for the tournament through 12 holes. Birdies on the back-to-back par 5s, 16 and 17, got him into the weekend, though.

Alex Cejka plays well beneath the radar, though backing up a 78 with a 69 showed some heart. He’ll play on the weekend of a U.S. Open for the fifth time in six starts.

When the cut fell at 8-over 148, some notable names left early, starting with Nos. 1 and 2 in the world order.

Top-ranked Donald was up against it, trying to recover from an opening 79. When he shot 72 Friday, he was a cut victim for the third time in nine U.S. Open starts. More telling, Donald since 2009 has recorded more missed cuts in the majors (five) than top-10 finishes, which feeds fuel to the skeptics who contend it’s difficult to embrace a No. 1 player who never has won a major.

Second-ranked McIlroy also packed early, rounds of 77-73 leaving him 10 over. He’s the first defending champion to miss the cut since Angel Cabrera in 2008.

Who else left early?

How about Vijay Singh, who had made 16 consecutive cuts in the U.S. Open since missing in his debut, 1993.

Or Geoff Ogilvy (76-74), an early departure for the third straight time in this championship.

Or Ben Crane (77-73), whose inexplicable play in the U.S. Open continued. Seven starts, five missed cuts.

A story that may have captivated golf fans in Japan soured when Ryo Ishikawa backed up a 71 with a 78. “The Bashful Prince” missed the cut by one after making a double bogey at the 18th hole.

Dustin Johnson, last week’s winner in Memphis, made one birdie in two days, shot 75-74, and missed the cut by one.

Casey Martin’s feel-good story nearly continued into the weekend, as it did here in 1998. Only the spirited Martin, now the coach of the University of Oregon golf team, bogeyed his 18th hole, the par-3 eighth, and missed the cut by one.

Masters runner-up Louis Oosthuizen (77-72) missed the cut by one, as did Bill Haas (76-73), Charles Howell (72-77), and Martin Laird (77-72). Laird has missed the cut in each of his four U.S. Open starts.

Of the eight amateurs, three made the cut: Beau Hossler, who shot 70-73 and is T-9, and Jordan Spieth (74-74) and Patrick Cantlay (76-72), both of whom got in on the number despite bogeys on two of their last three holes.

• • •

NUMBERS FOR LEADERS: Through 36 holes, Jim Furyk, Tiger Woods and David Toms are tied at 1 under. Furyk has played slightly better on the opening stretch of six holes – 1 under compared with Woods’ level par and Toms’ 2 over – but looking at some further stats, there are surprises. One is the fact that Woods’ conservative game plan has allowed him to hit more fairways in two days (21) than Toms (15) and Furyk (13); in fact, Woods leads all competitors in that category. Furyk has hit the most greens of anyone (27), with Woods (25) and Toms (21) lagging behind.

• • •

SHORT SHOTS: The par-4 second hole ranked fourth most difficult, a field average of 4.596. Only two birdies were made there, by Matt Bettencourt and Brendan Jones. . . . Just two eagles were made in Round 2, both at the par-5 17th. Steve Stricker and Lee Slattery did the honors. . . . At the other end of the statistical ledgers were those who had two rough days. Brian Rowell ranked last with just nine greens hit in regulation, Howard Cole was last with just three fairways hit, and for driving distance, Paul Claxton’s 218.25 was dead last. . . . Then again, Sergio Garcia clearly was off line on the driving-distance holes, because he ranks 151st, at 236.75. Heck, that ranks even behind Chez Reavie.

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