ARDMORE, Pa. There was one maneuver that worked for Billy Horschel and just about no one else who was trying to gain ground on the field during the second round of the U.S. Open. Horschel made progress while he was actually on the course.
Unlike first-round leader Phil Mickelson, who made room for himself through much of the day while waiting around for his late-afternoon tee time, Horschel shot 3-under-par 67 and earned a share of first place on a day when most of the backward-moving field was losing its battle with par.
Mickelson actually dropped two strokes but made an 18-foot birdie putt on the final hole his first birdie of the day for a 72 that put him in a tie with Horschel at 1 under.
Mickelson had the most dramatic shot of the day, beating time and par.
He had wanted to play the last hole before the round was suspended because of darkness. He did not want to have to come out early to play one hole, then come back later in the day for a round that could help decide the Open.
So Mickelson effectively asked the group ahead if he could "play through," as public course golfers might do on a Saturday morning. "We told DJ and his caddie Keith Sbarbaro," he said, referring to Dustin Johnson, "we may hit one shot, and they looked out for it. They moved to the side, Keegan (Bradley) hit and that meant the rest of the group could finish. It's nice when guys like that help out.
"I wasn't expecting a birdie there. It's a very difficult hole," Mickelson said.
As the day grew later, the greens became faster and more unpredictable.
The fairways were still soft, though, which meant there was little roll, which in turn meant the short, old Merion Golf Club played longer than golfers had expected. And the thick rough did not get any less challenging.
None of which had any effect on Horschel, 26, a former All-American at the University of Florida who won the Zurich Classic of New Orleans in April.
According to the PGA Tour, since 1992, when the statistic was first kept, Horschel is the first player to hit all 18 greens in regulation during a U.S. Open round.
He did it on a day when anything better than 5 over par was better than average.
"It was a great day," Horschel said. "Four birdies at a U.S. Open, I'll take it. I wish I had a couple more, though."
By his own admission, he is a man in a hurry. "I've acquired some patience, not as much as I wish I had. But I think the older I get, the more mature I get on the golf course, the more understanding that if I do have a bad stretch of holes, it's not that I don't hit the panic button, I just don't press right away.
"Patience is something that has always been a struggle for me. I'm doing a really good job of it this week, staying patient and just taking what's in front of me. I'm trying to keep a smile on my face and be happy with anything I do."
Here's what he can look forward to this weekend: a packed, eclectic group one shot behind, including Luke Donald, Justin Rose, Steve Stricker, Ian Poulter and amateur Cheng-Tsun Pan. Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy (3 over) are only four shots away.
Mickelson said: "I think this golf course provides a chance to shoot a low round, even though not many players have done that and it's difficult. If you play good golf, there are birdie holes where you can make birdies and shoot a round in the 60s."
Horschel, asked about his strategy, said: "Keeping momentum? Don't worry about anybody else. Keep doing the same thing I'm doing. Everything seems good. I've just got to stay patient and keep committing and executing every shot, and I'll be OK on Sunday."
As Woods and McIlroy finished, they shook hands and hung together on the green, both survivors.
Across Merion's 10th green, their playing partner, Adam Scott, wasn't done yet. He had a putt to make.
And he missed it, for a 75 and a 147 total.
It was that kind of afternoon for the world's third-ranked player and much of the field.
But No. 1 and 2 walked off together to sign their cards, sharing some words and a few laughs, neither complaining about getting away from the second round of the Open at 3 over.
"Long day, and I'm hungry," Woods said after going even par over 25 holes, completing his first round and also shooting a par 70 in the second round.
The Philadelphia Inquirer contributed to this report.