Barnes' noble effort rewrites record books
'Stress-free' American soars into lead with lowest US Open mark for 36 holes
Sunday 21 June 2009
In the 114-year history of the US Open no one has taken fewer shots in 36 holes than Ricky Barnes. Yesterday the American reached the halfway mark in 132 shots and so wiped out the previous low mark of Jim Furyk. It meant Tiger Woods would have to be in record-breaking form himself if he is to retain his title.
As the third round began last night, the world No 1 was 11 shots behind and looking to emulate the tournament's biggest comeback. Yet at least Woods would have felt he was now operating on a level playing fairway.
Golfers are not meant to stand at eight-under in the game's toughest major and certainly not at Bethpage Black. And to announce afterwards that their week so far has been "pretty stress-free"? Barnes must be either the best player the world has ever seen, or at the very least one of its most composed.
The truth is, Barnes has revealed neither – not yet anyway – and while the unheralded professional's achievement in posting two rounds of 67 and 65 should not be downplayed, this has not been anything like a normal US Open.
Indeed, thanks to the torrential downpours of Thursday and the near perfect conditions of Friday and yesterday morning, this has been one of the more bizarre. Half of the field were forced to play in the three-hour carnage of the opening day and, after finishing off in the still soaking conditions of the second day, had to wait to begin their second rounds on the third day just as the next batch of rain began to fall.
Meanwhile, the other half (let us refer to that part of the draw as the "jammy buggers") had been presented with a 12-hour window during which the monster of Long Island was as benign as it could possibly be.
Soft fairways had stopped the balls from rolling into the rough and if the greens had been any more receptive they would have come complete with a waiter dispensing champagne. Barnes was the man to take prime advantage of this outrageous fortune and was just one of many who retired to the clubhouse to watch the rain begin to fall and the greens begin to churn up. The temptation to giggle must have been huge.
Credit to Phil Mickelson, therefore, for managing to keep a straight face when saying: "Yeah, we had a great end of the draw, the weather has been great and the conditions couldn't be better. I can't believe a storm is on its way. Hopefully it'll stay away."
In the event the storms blessedly did stay away. The world No 2 had just signed for a 70 and, at one-under, felt very much in contention despite falling seven behind Barnes. "I left shots out there, but I like the position I'm in," he said. "If I can get hot with the putter I like my chances in the next two rounds."
Certainly Mickelson will not fail because of any lack of support on the New York crowd's behalf. Their backing here has thus far been on the ear-popping side of vociferous. Of course, nobody believed it would be any different, but what was queried was Mickelson's ability to handle the emotion of it all as his wife Amy stays at home in California to prepare for breast-cancer surgery.
In the event, Mickelson's focus has been impressive. The fairytale is still on and in its retelling only the very bitter would mention the assistance he has received from the sporting gods (in conjunction with the weather gods).
However, the scoreboard here last night showed 13 players under par after the completion of the second round and just one of them was from the "first wave". England's Lee Westwood was that plucky pro. Last year he finished one off the Woods-Rocco Mediate play-off and here he showed that was no one-off with an afternoon's best 66 to advance to two-under.
"I just went out with the idea of trying to be in front on my side of the draw and I've managed to do that," Westwood said. "It was great yesterday afternoon, sitting and watching the other half play. I really felt for them sweating in that heat. In seriousness, it wasn't much fun when you've shot what you thought was a good 72 and you think 69 is leading. And all of a sudden it was like they were throwing darts out there."
Westwood was on the same mark as his compatriot Ross Fisher and both were handily placed to launch a challenge to become the first European winner of the US Open since Tony Jacklin in 1970.
A sign of Fisher's ever-burgeoning status is that he expressed dissatisfaction at his position on the leaderboard. "I do feel two-under is the worst I could be," he said after a morning 68. "I could have been five or six-under easily if I had holed a few more putts.
"You know, I didn't come here thinking 'top 10'," the 28-year-old added. "I came here with the firm belief I can win the US Open. I feel ready to win a major. I feel like my game is ready to compete and I am ready to get into contention come Sunday."
While Fisher's confidence might raise an eyebrow under the odd visor, they clearly were not at Wentworth last month when Fisher pushed Paul Casey all the way in the BMW PGA Championship with a final-round 64.
It was widely accepted to be the finest round of the European Tour so far this season and the boost it gave Fisher is now obvious. "To go out there on the Sunday and shoot the best round of my career was great," said Fisher, whose formative years were spent on the Wentworth fairways courtesy of a scholarship scheme. "I took a lot from that and I think I've brought it here."
Casey also took a lot from Wentworth – nearly £700,000 as it happens – yet clearly did not bring any of that mojo to Long Island. The world No 3 came here with a big reputation but after a second successive 75, he left town last night feeling that bit smaller with a 10-over total.
He could console himself with the whole draw anomaly, as well as with the company he had kept in missing the cut. Padraig Harrington, the three-time major winner, confirmed fears about his faltering form by struggling to 12-over.
(US unless stated)
132 Ricky Barnes 67 65
133 Lucas Glover 69 64
134 Mike Weir (Can) 64 70
137 Peter Hanson (Swe) 66 71; Azuma Yano (Japan) 72 65; David Duval 67 70
138 Ross Fisher (GB) 70 68; Sean O'Hair 69 69; Todd Hamilton 67 71; Nick Taylor* (Can) 73 65; Lee Westwood (GB) 72 66
139 Steve Stricker 73 66; Phil Mickelson 69 70; Gary Woodland 73 66; Ryan Moore 70 69. 140 Hunter Mahan 72 68; J B Holmes 73 67; Adam Scott (Aus) 69 71; Oliver Wilson (GB) 70 70; Sergio Garcia (Sp) 70 70; Stephen Ames (Can) 74 66; Trevor Murphy 71 69, Geoff Ogilvy (Aus) 73 67. 141 Francesco Molinari (It) 71 70; Michael Sim (Aus) 71 70; Graeme McDowell (GB) 69 72; Dustin Johnson 72 69; Michael Sim (Aus) 71 70; Retief Goosen (SA) 73 68; Soren Hansen (Den) 70 71; John Mallinger 71 70; Drew Weaver* 69 72; Jim Furyk 72 69; Rocco Mediate 68 73. 142 Anthony Kim 71 71; Rory McIlroy (GB) 72 70; Bubba Watson 72 70; Jeff Brehaut 70 72; Camilo Villegas (Col) 71 71; Stewart Cink 73 69; Matt Bettencourt 75 67. 143 Tiger Woods 74 69; Kenny Perry 71 72; Angel Cabrera (Arg) 74 69; Ben Curtis 72 71; Billy Mayfair 73 70; Carl Pettersson (Swe) 75 68; K J Choi (S Kor) 72 71; Andrew McLardy (SA) 71 72; Henrik Stenson (Swe) 73 70; Andres Romero (Arg) 73 70. 144 Vijay Singh (Fiji) 72 72; Kyle Stanley* 70 74; Ian Poulter (Eng) 70 74; Tom Lehman 71 73; Jean-François Lucquin (Fr) 73 71; Tim Clark (SA) 73 71; Fred Funk 70 74; Thomas Levet (Fr) 72 72; Kevin Sutherland 71 73; Johan Edfors (Swe) 70 74.
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