After two rounds of solid ball-striking on a course where he feels at home, Phil Mickelson left Pinehurst No. 2 on Friday evening satisfied with the shape of his game. Well, most of it.
"I feel like I'm playing well enough to win the U.S. Open," Mickelson asserted. "Except for putting."
Mickelson is 13 strokes behind leader Martin Kaymer heading into the weekend. You can blame his balky putting stroke.
Inconsistent with the putter all season, Mickelson began fiddling with a claw grip last weekend at the St. Jude Classic and continued with it during Thursday's opening round. Then he made an adjustment with his eye alignment over the ball and transitioned back to his normal grip and stroke Friday.
He thought he had things figured out with birdies at the second and third holes. But then came a barrage of three-putts — four total Friday, including one at No. 6 that Mickelson admitted "shook me a little bit."
After two days, Mickelson has taken 65 putts, 135th in the 156-player field.
"The hole looks like a thimble to me right now," he said.
Rory McIlroy has been in Kaymer's shoes. In 2011 at Congressional, McIlroy opened the U.S. Open with rounds of 65-66 to lead Y.E. Yang by six shots and the rest of the field by at least nine. His advice for Kaymer, who leads by six at 10 under after 36 holes?
"If I was Martin, I'd be thinking about how to get seven ahead and then eight ahead and then nine ahead," said McIlroy, who finished at 16 under in 2011, winning by eight shots. "You can't try to protect. You have to keep the foot to the floor. If he's comfortable out here and making birdies, then that's what he should still be thinking about."
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A remarkable thing happened Friday in the 18th fairway. Hunter Mahan hit Jamie Donaldson's Titleist Pro V1x, and Donaldson hit Mahan's. Neither realized it until they reached the green.
"Off the tee, it looked like that's where my ball should have been [in the left-center of the fairway]," Mahan said. "I've just got to pay more attention. One of those fluke things."
Caddie John Wood took the blame, saying he was first to approach what he thought was Mahan's ball. It had a similar marking to Donaldson's, with a slash across the number.
"It's hard to believe I did something that epically dumb," Wood said, "but I did."
Both players had to return to the fairway, drop and take a two-shot penalty. Both made double bogey, and Mahan missed the cut by one shot at six over.
Masters champ Bubba Watson shot an even-par 70 on Friday but also missed the cut by one. Other big names coming up short were Luke Donald (six over), Charl Schwartzel (six over), Jason Dufner (six over) and Lee Westwood (eight over).