Ardmore, Pa. • Just two years ago Rory McIlroy shot a record 16-under par to win the U.S. Open at Congressional in Bethesda, Md., by eight strokes.
Today he stands at 3-over par at the midway point of the 2013 Open here at fabled Merion Golf Club.
Yet right in the thick of it.
“At the end of the weekend there’s going to be a guy lifting the trophy,” said McIlroy, who shot even-par 70, matching playing partner Tiger Woods, while the third man in the group — Masters champ Adam Scott — finished plus-7. “It doesn’t matter if he’s plus-5, minus-5 or plus-16.
“So I’m very happy. I don’t think I’ll be too far away by the end of the day. It’s a nice position to be in going into the last two days.”
The glamour group of Tiger, Rory and Adam — which began play at 7:15 a.m. in order to finish up the first round — was winding down just about the time first-round leader Phil Mickelson finally stepped onto the tee. Based on the difficult pin placements and windy conditions that made scoring next to impossible, they expect to be very much in the hunt once the cut is made and the field is narrowed down Saturday morning.
“It was a long day, but I played well,” said Woods, who appeared to be in constant pain from a wrist injury he suffered a few weeks ago. “I made a couple of mistakes out there today or maybe I could’ve gotten a little more out of it.
“But it was a pretty good day. It was hard with the wind and the pin locations. They’re really tough. They’ve moved a couple of the fairways over.
“More than anything they’ve tried to protect the golf course with it being as soft as it is. They’re trying to protect par.”
While Woods was being diplomatic, other players were highly critical of USGA officials for how they’re designing Merion this week. For example the threesome of former Open champs Graeme McDowell and Jim Furyk and former Masters champ Zach Johnson finished a combined 40 over par.
“It’s manipulative,” said Johnson, whose 77 left him at 11 over, well above the expected cut line. It just enhances my disdain for how the USGA manipulates the golf course.
“ I know it going in, so I’m not shocked or surprised. It’s just unfortunate they felt that’s necessary. I think Merion’s a tremendous golf course, if you let Merion be.
“That’s not the agenda here.”
Furyk agreed. “Really, it’s in the USGA’s hands,” said the 2003 Open champ, whom many thought could challenge here. “It depends on how they want to set it up.
“The scores are reflective. You could set Merion up to where 10-over par could win and could set it up to where 10 under could win.”
Don’t count on the latter taking place. After only Mickelson (67) and four international players — Englishman Luke Donald (68), Australian Matthew Goggin (68), Scotland’s Russell Knox (69) and Belgian Nicolas Colsaerts (69) — broke par in the first round, the trend continued into round two. Among the early group, Floridian Billy Horschel (three-under 67) was the only player to reach red numbers. He shares the lead overnight with Mickelson, who birdied the final hole to draw even — his only birdie of the day. American Steve Stricker and Englishman Justin Rose — both of whom shot 1-under 69 — are a stroke behind at even par, along with a couple of others who didn’t finish their rounds before darkness set in.
Woods, McIlroy, American Scott Langley and 2006 Open champ Geoff Ogilvy shot even-par 70 to trail by four. So much for all that pre-tournament speculation that Merion would be under siege just like Congressional was in 2011.
“I didn’t hear any of the golfers saying that,” said McIlroy, who spent part of his free time leading up to the Open running the steps at the Philadelphia Art Museum, a la ‘Rocky.’ “It was you guys [in the media] saying it was going to be scorable.
“So you must be very good golfers. It’s tough, but it’s definitely fair.”
Especially if two or three days from now Rory Mcilroy is hoisting the trophy.
Whatever the score.
Billy Horschel -1
Phil Mickelson -1
Luke Donald E
Steve Stricker E
Justin Rose E
Ian Poulter E
Cheng Tsun Pan E
Mike Weir +5
Jay Don Blake +11
MORE COVERAGE • Sandy’s Mike Weir is likely to make the cut — but his fellow Utahn may not. > D4