ARDMORE, Pa. — With Merion humbling the most experienced of golfers, UW’s Cheng-Tsung Pan was one of the biggest surprises of the U.S. Open’s second day.
Pan, who just finished his sophomore season, was only nine holes into his second round when play was suspended for darkness, but was tied for third at even par. He was one stroke behind co-leaders Phil Mickelson and Billy Horschel, who finished their second rounds at 1-under 139.
The 21-year-old Pan, who missed the cut in his other Open appearance in 2011, had two birdies and no bogeys on Friday and was at 2-under for the round.
“I definitely feel good,” he said. “I didn’t hit my drives well. I missed a couple fairways out there. But I grinded it out, just trying to make par.”
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The talk of the tournament has been the difficulty of the course, but Pan said he thought the 6,901-yard course played to his strengths.
“It’s narrow, and accuracy is my strong point, so that helps me a lot,” he said.
Pan, originally from Taiwan, was one of two surprising amateurs, as Michael Kim of Cal was tied for eighth. Pan and Kim, who also didn’t finish his second round, will finish their rounds Saturday morning.
UW men’s golf coach Matt Thurmond didn’t want to get his hopes too high midway through the second round, but he was happy with the attention Pan and his school is getting.
“It’s awesome,” Thurmond said. “He was wearing all that purple today and they said several times on TV where he’s from.”
Even with the round not finished, it was becoming clear that this U.S. Open might be up for grabs until the very end. Tiger Woods, who grimaced with every shot out of the rough because of pain in his left elbow, was at 3-over 143 and still very much in the game.
“I don’t know how anyone is going to separate too far from the field,” Mickelson said. “There might be a hot round tomorrow, and they might get a hot round on Sunday, but unlikely to be the same player.”
No one was hotter than Horschel, who shot a 67 while playing in his first U.S. Open since he was a 19-year-old in college.
But nothing is tougher than Merion, the little course in the tony suburbs of Philadelphia that even in rain-softened conditions is showing plenty of might. And to think there was chatter at the start of the week about the potential for the first 62 in major championship history.
“Perhaps next time you guys will believe when we say it’s really not that easy, that it’s really not that easy,” Geoff Ogilvy said after a 70. That put him at 4-over 144, which gave him a legitimate shot going into the weekend.
Luke Donald (72), Justin Rose (69) and Steve Stricker (69) were at even-par 140.
The long day, brought on by storm delays on Thursday, began with cool conditions and patches of light rain that eventually gave way to sunshine. That led players to wonder how much tougher Merion will be once it starts to dry out.
“It’s not as easy as people think,” defending champion Webb Simpson said after a 75 put him six shots behind the clubhouse lead. “I heard 15, 16 under floating around. And it’s going to be a normal U.S. Open winning score, I think.”
Horschel hit all 18 greens in regulation, a stellar achievement at a regular tour event, let alone the U.S. Open. It sent USGA officials searching for hours to find the last time anyone failed to miss a green in the toughest test in golf. Records of that detail only go back as far as 1989. The last documentation of someone doing that was Johnny Miller when he closed with a 63 at Oakmont to win in 1973.
“I didn’t know I hit every green until I walked off 18,” Horschel said. “It’s a cool thing. But like I said, it’s not the first time I’ve hit all 18 greens. I’ve done it plenty of times in my career. Obviously, it’s at a U.S. Open, but I think the softness of the greens helped that.”
Ian Poulter, who was plodding along in plaid, was at even par after shooting 1 under for his round through 14 holes. John Senden of Australia had a 71 and Nicolas Colsaerts of Belgium shot 72 to finish at 1-over 141.
With a birdie putt on his final hole, Mickelson was under par through 36 holes for the seventh time in the U.S. Open. The previous six times, he was a threat to win on Sunday. Mickelson has five silver medals as a runner-up, and all he wants is another chance.
“I just like being in the mix,” he said. “I think it’s fun having a chance heading into the weekend. The way I have control off the tee and as good as the putter is — even though it didn’t show today — I’m very excited about the opportunity this weekend.”
Pan has decidedly less experience, but a similar opportunity.
“It’s still early in the tournament,” Pan said. “We’ve got two more days. I mean, I’ve got 45 holes to go, so … just trying to keep my name on the scoreboard.”
The Associated Press and Times staffer Scott Hanson contributed to this report.