McDowell leads US Open

The US Open Championship is nicely poised as the tournament enters the weekend at the stunning yet brutal Pebble Beach Golf Links on California's Monterey Peninsula.

In perfect early morning scoring conditions on day two the field again faced the demanding layout and overall the scoring was just under a shot easier than that of the opening day. That of course did mean things were a lot easier but some good moves were made on day two, none more so than that of Phil Mickelson whose round of 66 has him knocking on the door of his first US Open title.

Irishman Graeme McDowell, however, leads by two at 3 under over Ernie Els, Dustin Johnson, Ryo Ishikawa and Mickelson. Alex Cejka, Paul Casey, Brendon de Jonge and Jerry Kelly are in a group at even par just one shot further back. Give the nature of this golf course however every player who has made the cut probably gives themselves a chance of moving into contention tomorrow including two of the pre tournament favourites Lee Wetwood (3 over) and Tiger Woods (4 over).

McDowell arrived at Pebble Beach in stunning form having put together a brilliant weekend at the recent Celtic Manor Wales Open and has paced his preparation well.

"I just came off three weeks in a row in Europe, said the Northern Irishman. " I had a week off after Wales. It was over at my house in Orlando, just kind of acclimatizing a little bit, and cranking the jet lag up a little bit. I had played plenty of golf, and I wasn't too worried about my game. I thought my form was great."

"I did work with Pete (Cowan) on Friday night and had four days of preparation on the golf course. That was more than normal of what I would do, but I really felt this golf course required some work, required some getting to know and, you know, I played three AT&T's in the past, but nothing prepares for you for level of set up."

"You know, I'd be lying if I said I hadn't thought about picking up the trophy on Sunday afternoon. I think that's only natural. But I'm trying to be very realistic about it, as well. 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."

"So I'm not seeing the battle with the rest of the field, but seeing the battle with myself and the golf course. So I really, really feel like I'm playing the golf course really disciplined. I feel like all facets of my game are in good shape. I'm probably as ready to go into the weekend of a Major as I've ever been."

Mickelson was delighted with what he achieved. "I thought something in the 60s was out there and would get me into contention. I knew I needed to get off to a quick start because the birdie holes are the first seven and I needed to capitalize on that. I knew I had been putting well. It was just a minor tweak here or there that was going to make the difference, and it was just a slight adjustment in the setup and all of a sudden the ball starts rolling on line now."

Clearly Mickelson is excited by the prospect of what lies ahead. "I think this is the greatest place, for a golfer, to hold an Open to be able to play one of the most beautiful golf courses and have it be in U.S. Open conditions. No, this is so much fun and I don't want the weekend to end. I want to keep playing. I can't wait to get out tomorrow for that 4:15 tee time in the afternoon, it's great."

Els is seeking his third US open title although his first since 1997 and in the form he has brought to this event he was always considered amongst the favourites. "Well, it's been such a long time since I won one of these, he said after his round. " But we've got a long way to go. Obviously, I needed a round like today to get me back in the tournament, which is nice. We've just got to look at conditions. I feel comfortable with my game, you know. I worked really hard coming in here. So I feel my game's there, which is nice, because you need your game around a U.S. Open venue."

In a perhaps ominous sign for his fellow contenders he talked about the way his game is shaping up for the weekend. "I feel my game is very good this week, for some reason. So the last two days I felt a bit more calm. I've played this event where I've been very tense and other times I've been quite calm. And all I can say is that the times that I've been tense my game wasn't quite there. And there's so much trouble that you've got to stop thinking about it. This week I'm feeling all right."

Dustin Johnson is also at 1 under along with Ishikawa. Johnson has won the Pebble Beach Pro Am in each of the last two years and clearly loves this place. Ishikawa played with Tom Watson and the oldest man in the field and the youngest both made the cut with Watson holing a tricky four footer at the last to sneak in.

While Mickelson is now the favourite to win, two others who were also pre tournament favourites are off the pace but not out of it. Lee Westwood is at 3 over and Tiger Woods is at 4 over and given that a score of even par or higher might yet win this event then they will still fancy their chances.

"I feel good," said Woods. "I'm right there. As we know, the U.S. Open is only going to get tougher as the weekend goes. The golf course will dry out. I know they put some water on it last night, and that's probably the last drink they will get. So it will firm up."

"I'm only, what, seven back. And this is a long haul at a U.S. Open. This is a long haul."

Pebble Beach has produced four spectacular US Open finishes in the four times it has been held here and there is every reason to believe another one is just around the corner although with many twists and turns yet to come.


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Bruce Young
About The Author : Bruce Young

A multi-award winning golf journalist, Bruce's extensive knowledge of and background in the game of golf comes from several years caddying the tournament circuits of the world, marketing a successful golf course design company and as one of Australia's leading golf journalists and commentators.

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