Goosen Positioned for No 3 at No 2

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PINEHURST, N.C. -- One by one, Pinehurst No. 2 picked off anyone who tried to get hold of this U.S. Open.
 
Phil Mickelson tumbled out of contention with a 41 on his first nine holes. Tiger Woods was so angry he scuffed up a green with his putter. David Toms was alone in the lead until he dropped five shots in two holes, falling 16 spots down the leaderboard faster than he could say Donald Ross.
 
Retief Goosen
Retief Goosen is seeking his third U.S. Open victory in the last five years.
Olin Browne was trying to avoid a big number and wound up thrilled with a double bogey.
 
At the end of a punishing day filled with elation and agony, leave it to the most even-keeled guy in the game - defending champion Retief Goosen - to be atop the leaderboard and suddenly the favorite at the U.S. Open.
 
At least for now.
 
'I don't think you can really distance yourself at this event,' Goosen said. 'It's going to be a tough, grinding weekend out there, so it's just who is going to make the least mistakes.'
 
Friday might have been just a preview.
 
Goosen held it together despite two bogeys over his final five holes for an even-par 70, leaving him tied for the lead with Browne (71) and Jason Gore, who played the final 12 holes in 3 under par to shoot 67.
 
They were at 2-under 138, the highest 36-hole score to lead the U.S. Open since 1996 at Oakland Hills.
 
Only three other players were under par. Mark Hensby (68) and K.J. Choi (70) each birdied the final hole and were one shot behind, with a whole cast of contenders right behind them.
 
Vijay Singh, who has missed only six greens in two days, had another 70 and was at even-par 140, joined by Sergio Garcia (69), Michael Campbell (69) and Lee Westwood (72).
 
'I feel like I'm in great position right now,' Singh said. 'If I can go out there and figure out the pace of the green, come out strong tomorrow, we'll see what happens.'
 
Woods missed two birdie putts inside 12 feet on his final four holes, drew a mild reprimand from the USGA for his poor etiquette on the ninth green and shot 71 to finish in a large group at 141 that included former U.S. Open champion Jim Furyk and Adam Scott.
 
For one and all, the idea was not to make a move, but to stay put.
 
'Everybody is going to confront a catastrophe out here somewhere,' Browne said.
 
Goosen didn't look capable of one for most of the sunny afternoon, breezing along with two-putt pars and the occasional birdie. But even he wasn't immune to mistakes, missing the green on the fifth hole with a 9-iron to make bogey, and watching his ball trickle off the side of the seventh green and onto a sandy patch above the bunker. That gave him another bogey, and brought out the slightest sign of irritation, not to mention a pulse.
 
'If you don't hit the ball properly, you're in trouble,' Goosen said. 'I felt I could finish 4 or 5 under. With short irons like that, you shouldn't miss the green.'
 
Gore became the latest surprise atop the leaderboard at Pinehurst. At least Browne and Rocco Mediate, co-leaders after the first day, have won on the PGA Tour. Gore has only spent two seasons in the big leagues without so much as finishing in the top 10.
 
His only previous U.S. Open fame was being the leader at Olympic Club in 1998 - for one hole, and only because he was in the first group of the opening round.
 
'This is my second time I've led the U.S. Open. So, I'm quite comfortable now,' Gore said, showing the self-deprecating humor that might come in handy over the weekend.
 
For others, it was no joke.
 
Browne held it together nicely considering his debacle at the par-3 sixth. He went from the front bunker to the back bunker, then past the pin and down the slope off the green. After a safe chip to 25 feet, he holed the putt for double bogey.
 
'This course will whip your butt, plain and simple, every single shot,' Browne said.
 
Toms learned that over 12 excruciating shots on his last two holes. First, he hit into a bunker on No. 8 and barely got it to the green before three-putting for double bogey. Then, on the par-3 ninth, he went from a bunker over the green, took two shots with the putter to get 10 feet past the hole and two-putted for triple bogey.
 
'I played really well for the last couple days. I just had two bad holes,' Toms said.
 
Mickelson had a lot of them, although nothing worse than a bogey. Starting the day just two shots out of the lead and playing in the morning, when overcast skies and cooler conditions made Pinehurst more playable, Lefty only produced half of his short-game wizardry - he could chip, he just couldn't putt.
 
Mickelson's 77 was his highest score in the U.S. Open since a 79 the final day at Oakmont in 1994, and it left him eight shots out of the lead.
 
'It's a tough course to turn things around on because you just can't make birdies,' he said. 'The more you try to make birdies, the more bogeys you're going to make. I was just trying to salvage pars, and had a tough time doing it.'
 
Woods started strong with two birdies on the first four holes, but it wasn't long before he ran into problems with the pace of the greens - a three-putt on No. 6, and another one on the ninth, which ran some 12 feet by the cup. When the par putt came up short, he dragged his putter across the green and scuffed up the line.
 
Despite his tantrums and a few errant shots, he was only three shots behind.
 
'Days like today typify a U.S. Open,' he said. 'No one is going to run off with it.'
 
It was wild and wacky, typical of what can happen on the domed greens Donald Ross designed. In one bizarre sequence, Westwood holed a 30-foot putt from off the green. Kenny Perry was next, and his putt rolled back off the slope to his feet. Then he made the next one for par.
 
Expect that kind of topsy-turvy play over the next two days, when the U.S. Open figures to be up for grabs.
 
'I think Jack Nicklaus said it best,' Browne said. 'The Open chooses you, you don't choose it.'
 
Right now, Pinehurst isn't particularly fond of anyone.
 
Related links:
  • Leaderboard - 105th U.S. Open
  • Full Coverage - 105th U.S. Open

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