Stricker in hunt at U.S. Open

ARDMORE, Pa. (AP) — Phil Mickelson made his first birdie on his last putt. Billy Horschel never missed a green. It was all they could do to barely break par against Merion, which is turning out to be the real star of this U.S. Open.

Nearly half the field did not finish the second round when it was suspended by darkness. Moments after the horn sounded to stop play, Mickelson opted to finish his round and drilled a 20-foot birdie putt for a 2-over 72. That gave him a share of the clubhouse lead with Horschel, who made it as easy as possible by hitting every green in regulation for a 67.

They were at 1-under 139.

Luke Donald (72), Justin Rose (69) and former Illini Steve Stricker (69) were at even-par 140.

Former Illini Scott Langley was at 5 over and was safely under the anticipated cut line of 7 over. D.A. Points (11 over) and Scott Langley (12 over) were outside the expected cut line.

Even with the round not finished, it was becoming clear that this U.S. Open might be up for grabs until the 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 (today), and they might get a hot round on Sunday, but unlikely to be the same player.”

No one was hotter than Horschel, playing in his first U.S. Open since he was a 19-year-old in college.

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 and dozens of others a legitimate shot going into the weekend.

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