Lefty chasing McDowell’s lead

Graeme McDowell holds a two-shot lead in the 110th US Open, but Phil Mickelson has moved ominously into contention.

Graeme McDowell holds a two-shot lead at the halfway point of the 110th US Open, but Phil Mickelson produced a spectacular 66 to fire himself right into contention at Pebble Beach.
McDowell made the most of the more forgiving conditions on Friday morning to post a 68 that lifted him to the top of a cosmopolitan leaderboard on three-under-par.
That meant Mickelson started his afternoon round some seven shots adrift of the Ulsterman, but the world number two produced a typically swashbuckling display to move ominously on to the McDowell’s shoulder.
The American’s heroics left him in a four-way tie for second at one-under alongside two-time US Open champion Ernie Els (68), compatriot Dustin Johnson (70) and Japanese starlet Ryo Ishikawa (71).
England’s Paul Casey and Alex Cejka of Germany remain very much in the hunt at level-par alongside overnight leader Brendon de Jonge of Zimbabwe and another American, Jerry Kelly.
It was McDowell and Els who made the biggest moves early in the day with the former looking particularly impressive.
Fresh from his win at the Wales Open, McDowell shrugged off a sticky start that yielded two bogeys in his first three holes as he hit the birdie trail.
Having started on the more testing back nine, he picked up strokes at 11, 14, 16 and 18 to turn in 34 strokes and added further birdies at the fourth and sixth to give himself breathing space at the top of the leaderboard at four-under.
But he blotted his copybook with a rather scruffy three-putt at his final hole, the ninth, for a closing bogey that spoiled an otherwise blemish-free front nine.
Els outshone playing partners Lee Westwood (71) and Tiger Woods (72) as he mixed five birdies and two bogeys to match the 68 of McDowell – at that stage the best rounds of the tournament.
But they were both eclipsed by Mickelson whose aggressive mindset was rewarded in handsome style as he banished the memories of his birdie-free opening 75.
The world number two had been left to rue what he described as a “terrible” putting display on Thursday, but he had no such problem 24 hours on as he flew out of the blocks.
The American, who turned 40 on Wednesday, made six threes in his first eight holes – rattling up five birdies in the process – as he quickly got himself under-par for the first time in the championship.
His only blemish of the day arrived at the ninth where he failed to get up-and-down for par after finding sand with his approach, but he was quickly back into the red numbers as he sunk a 20-footer for birdie number six at the 11th.
He then parred his way home, despite giving himself plenty more looks at birdie, and will now start the weekend as favourite to finally claim a first US Open title after no fewer than five runner-up finishes.
Woods, who like Mickelson failed to make a single birdie in round one, did manage three on Friday, but four more bogeys ensure he is five back of Mickelson and seven behind McDowell at four-over.
Westwood fought bravely and will still fancy his chances of challenging as he finished up on three-over.
His fellow Englishman Ian Poulter showed commendable maturity and courage to battle back from a horrendous start to leave himself in a tie for tenth at one-over with Soren Kjeldsen of Denmark and Korea’s KJ Choi.
After bogeys at ten and 11, Poulter made a triple-bogey eight at the 14th to slump to four-over. He was not the only victim of the treacherous par-five, though, with YE Yang also running up and eight and Zach Johnson taking nine.
But Poulter retained his composure to play his final 13 holes in three-under-par and now retains genuine ambitions of breaking his major duck.
With the ten-shot rule imposed, the cut-line fell at seven-over meaning the likes of Rory McIlroy, Ross Fisher, Simon Dyson, Oliver Wilson, Geoff Ogilvy and Adam Scott all failed to secure a weekend stay.