Stricker grabs narrow lead as Tiger misses cut
BY Bruce Young | US PGA Tour | 2006 US Open | Round Two | 17 Jun 2006
As the sun set and the dust settled after yet another day of attrition at Winged Foot, Steve Stricker stood atop a leaderboard littered with the remains of fallen heroes.
Early on the day two of the 2006 US Open there was a suggestion that the course would take pity on the field of the leading players in the world and indeed overall the scoring was just that much better. Five rounds under par recorded on day two compared to just the one on the opening day and another six at even compared to five the previous day.
While there were several moving forward there were many of the world’s leading players who were headed south and the casualties would include the world number one and four, Tiger Woods and Retief Goosen and the defending champion, Michael Campbell, who had a shocking two days on the greens.
Woods’ task was always perhaps too great although this is but a hiccup and he will no doubt bounce back with this tournament behind him and more competitive golf under his belt. On a golf course like this and against the world’s best, the start he was giving them in terms of preparation was too great.
They were some of the casualties but they were not just limited to those missing the cut. David Howell led this tournament by three with four holes to play in round one but when he faltered over the closing holes in round one and added a 78 today he had all but extinguished his chances. It must have been an agonising day for him both physically and mentally as he thought back to the previous day.
For the leader, Steve Stricker, this is a significant moment and his performance is perhaps not as much from left field as it might initially seem. Stricker is without status on the USPGA Tour in 2006 but when he has played, he has done well. He has made the cut in five of his six starts and his 3rd placing in Houston gave an indication of just how far he has come in the last twelve months. His US Open record is none too shabby either having two fifth placings to his credit in 1999 and 1998. There is a long way to go in this event and it might be that Stricker is nowhere to be seen by Sunday afternoon but if he does hang around then it will provide even further evidence that he is returning to his former glory. Perhaps this performance has already done just that.
“It’s a course where you’ve got to keep plugging away every hole just like any other U.S. Open, I guess,” said Stricker after his round. “I’ve just had good practice here every day. Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday were good practice days for me; I played well in the practice rounds and I think I just kind of except for the start yesterday, I think I’ve kind of continued that.”
“There were no physical injuries, but mental injuries there might have been, I’m not sure (laughing),” he said referring to his struggles in recent years. “I was obviously struggling with confidence and everything that goes when you’re not playing that well. I put in a lot of time this winter. I worked hard. I think what helped, too, is I went back to Q school, went back to the finals, and I kept playing all the way up through December this last year and then never really put the clubs down over the holidays. I can’t play up in Wisconsin, but I was still able to hit a lot of balls. I continued doing that and working out through January and February, and the tournaments that I’ve gotten into this year, I’ve played well. I’ve just kind of been building a little momentum each and every week that I play.”
Montgomerie was almost flawless from tee to green. Nearly every time you saw Montie he was in the fairway or in the middle of the green – until the last few holes that is. It was a day where he would record no birdies and just the one bogey. Late in the day he missed the fairways badly at his 14th and 17th holes but was able to save par on both occasions. He missed a very good chance from five feet for birdie at his 16th hole but at even par and just one back he is a genuine contender.
At one over par are Geoff Ogilvy and Kenneth Ferrie. Ogilvy has become one of the fine players in world golf in the last eighteen months and has two USPGA Tour victories and a lot of money to prove just that. More importantly however is that he has shown in recent starts in majors a capacity to hang in there. He was out early on day two and played very solidly throughout. His two late birdies at the 15th and 16th have him well placed to move to yet another level in the game by Sunday. He has shown every sign that he has the ability to handle this situation and now he has a great chance to prove it.
Ferrie has hardly been in great form in 2006 but he is a winner of the 2005 European Open, was runner up in the Dunhill Links and was 10th at the Volvo Masters in 2005, suggesting he is a much better player that the American commentators were prepared to give him credit for. There are occasions when you feel they should look outside the commentary box for their information.
When he reached four under par for the day and three under for the tournament it was perhaps to be expected that a hiccup might come Ferrie’s way over the last few holes. It did so in the way of double bogeys at the 14th and 15th holes and at one over he had fallen behind both Stricker and Montgomerie. To his credit he parred the last three demanding holes and finds himself well placed and in the penultimate group tomorrow.
Harrington’s last hole birdie has him right in the thick of things at two over and the man who has three US Open top tens to his credit is well placed to add another and perhaps go even better.
Jim Furyk is also lurking at two over. He made a nice par save at the last after missing the green left, that coming after a bogey at his 15th and 17th holes. He threatens to be one of the main dangers to those ahead of him and some of those behind as the tournament enters the weekend.
Phil Mickelson, Aaron Oberholser and Graeme McDowell are just one further back. Mickelson’s bogey save from eight feet at the last could prove crucial late in the tournament. He took a gamble from the trees with his second at the 18th and in the end the bogey was a good result. After bogies at his first two holes he recovered well and is a strong chance to add the US Open to his two Masters and one PGA collection.
Amongst those at four over is Brisbane golfer Scott Hend who has defied the odds to be where he is. One of the game’s longest hitters, he has also been one of the leaders in greens hit this week. He is third in driving distance this week for whatever that stat is worth on a golf course such as this. That he was able to do so well in what might have developed into a slugfest with the game’s longest hitter, JB Holmes, who he played with in the opening rounds, speaks even more for his effort.
There are plenty of chances around the four and five over mark still. One false move by any of those in or near the lead will open the door for those as far back as five or six over provided they can, themselves, take advantage of nay such slip.
Of the other Australians, Nick O’Hern further highlighted his capacity to play the tight demanding golf courses well. He is at five over but such is the grinding nature of his game that he might yet improve further on his current 14th position.
Robert Allenby and Adam Scott went backwards on day two with Scott proving disappointing after his promising start. Scott is not yet completely out of it but it will require something very special over the weekend and on this golf course it is hard to imagine he is up to the task.
This is shaping as an intriguing final thirty six holes with the tournament still wide open.
Photo – Anthony Powter