Phil Mickelson is 10 strokes behind U.S. Open leader Dustin Johnson at the halfway point, which makes him a long shot to complete his career grand slam this weekend.
But he can say something that several other big names at Shinnecock Hills cannot, including the fellow stars with whom he played the first two rounds: He survived.
Mickelson bounced back from a 77 in Thursday’s windblown first round to shoot 69 — after bogeying two of the first three holes. Whew.
“Half the battle for me was that I was what, 9-over par and outside the cut line,” he said. “I had to play the last 15 in under par just to make the cut. So I had to fight hard just to get to this point.”
Again, at least he survived. The day’s most bizarre performance went to his group-mate, Jordan Spieth, who like Mickelson struggled on Thursday with a 78.
After 11 holes on Friday he was 11 over. Then he birdied 13, 14, 15 and 16, a shocking streak here. Then he bogeyed 17 and 18 and missed the cut by a stroke.
Then he brushed away a USGA official asking him to stop to speak with reporters, saying that he did not see the point in it.
The third member of the group, Rory McIlroy, who shot 80 in the first round, at one point sank to 14 over in the second before four birdies on the back nine got him back to even for the day.
Mickelson said that while he played better in the second round, he felt he did not play all that badly in the first. The difference, he said, was the far more favorable course and weather conditions when the rain and wind stopped.
“I wasn’t disappointed with how I played [Thursday],” he said. “I drove it great. I didn’t putt well, didn’t chip well. I’m having trouble getting the ball close around the greens. I’m having trouble getting the ball to the hole.”
He said he planned to practice his putting after speaking to reporters, and that his plan for the weekend was to be more aggressive around the greens.
Mickelson has missed only two fairways — both times on No. 3 — and so far has achieved his goal of not making any double bogeys.
As for his chances to contend, it helps that he has the experience to know that you never know. He recalled the 1995 Open at Shinnecock, in which Neal Lancaster shot 29 on the back nine on Sunday for a 65 and tied for fourth place.
“What happened in 1995, I will always remember,” he said. “The conditions were calm in the morning, kind of like we’re seeing. I think there’s a 4-, 5-, 6-under par round here. If I can shoot that, or anybody who just made the cut, I think there’s potential. You just never know in this tournament.”