Friday's Winners And Losers
Holmes obviously watched the Angel Cabrera highlights from Oakmont last year: "What The Hell, I'll Just Bust Driver." Swinging away, Holmes averaged 337 yards off the tee, hit 14 greens and birdied the par-5 second hitting pitching wedge for his second shot. Holmes also drove the 305-yard sixth hole, but he actually had to finesse that one in.
Charlie Wi and David Toms
Wi is the only player in the field to shoot two rounds of par or better, with matching 70s. He's a shot behind Holmes, but walking a much thinner line. Wi is 117th in driving distance, and you're not going to thrive forever hitting 4-irons into these burned out greens. If the 5-foot-10 Wi (and it's pronounced "whee," like Michelle) is looking for a good template, he's got one in David Toms, who is generously listed in the media guide at 5-10 and 160 pounds. Toms played his best major championship round since the final round at the 2001 PGA -- when he laid up on the par-4 18th at Atlanta AC and beat Phil Mickelson by a shot. Toms' little-ball 69 Friday at Oakland Hills was one of only six sub-par rounds of the day.
Despite tempting fate by wearing gear from an NFL team that hasn't won a playoff game since 1992 (the Detroit Lions), Curtis shot the best round of the tournament so far, a one-bogey 67 that's going to look like a 63 by Sunday, when tankers are oiling the greens to keep the dust down. Curtis and Wi were the only two players in the top 6 to play the last two holes in even par. Which leads us to:
The 17th and 18th holes
Anybody interested in making a late charge Sunday afternoon might want to plan to start a little earlier. The 238-yard par-3 17th and its nasty back-right pin position gave up no birdies Friday and provided a host of entertaining putting "experiences" like Sergio Garcia's four-jack from 60 feet. The 498-yard par-4 18th was the hardest hole on the course for the second day in a row, and nobody made birdie there either. Keeping the ball near that front-left pin was like trying to stop a ball on a closing garage door.
Phil Mickelson and Sergio Garcia
Ah, what could have been. Responsible for carrying the marquee-player storyline in Tiger's absence, Mickelson and Garcia mostly just hockeyed the ball around from 20 yards and in. The ninth hole was a perfect Mickelson more-complicated-than-it-has-to-be microcosm: He had a perfect, flat lie in the greenside bunker and asked his caddie, Jim Mackay, to take out the flag. He intended to use the mound behind the hole as a backstop, but hit the shot too far and left it on top of the ledge. A 90-degree turning putt later, he made a silly bogey-4. Bogeys on 14, 15 and 17 dropped him to three-over 143 -- not out of it, but not exactly brimming with confidence. Garcia had his own short-game adventures, failing to get up and down for bogey on 10 and for par on 11, then taking his aforementioned four-putt tour of the 17th green. Still, he's just three behind, at 142, and maybe drafting behind the leaders for another day will be better for his psyche.
Robert Karlsson and Anthony Kim
In the span of an hour, Karlsson fell completely off the leader board with bogies on his first four holes. By the end of the day, he was only co-No. 3 Swedish player with Carl Pettersson, behind Henrik Stenson and Peter Hanson. (I'm sure he'll be teased about that.) Kim wilted in his marquee pairing with Garcia, three-putting three times on his way to a 75. By the end, he was visibly frustrated by some bad hops on tee shots that finished in the semi-rough.
Not the best of days for the always good-natured Monty. His second-round 84 -- his worst career round in a major championship -- happened at a slow trickle. He made 10 bogeys and two doubles.
What to Watch for Tomorrow
For good and bad, this is what it was like watching majors before Tiger Woods was around. Play a 36-hole scrum and see which characters survive on Saturday afternoon. Who do you bet on this time? Holmes, a guy whose two career PGA Tour wins came at TPC Scottsdale, a course with 50-yard wide fairways? How about Wi, a career PGA Tour (and European Tour, and Asian Tour, and Nationwide Tour) journeyman whose one notable skill is persistence? Is Garcia finally going to steal one from somebody else? Curtis has been in this position before, making pars and waiting for everybody else to fumble. We've also seen Justin Rose stride confidently to the top of Masters leader boards before vapor-locking his way into the high 70s on the weekend. Twelve players are within three shots of the lead, and the group has managed a total of three majors among them -- Cabrera's 2007 U.S. Open, Curtis' '03 British Open and Toms' '01 PGA. Add in the grinding arbitrariness of Oakland Hills' setup and you've got a junior varsity demolition derby. It might not be elegant, but sometimes it's just fun to watch the wreckage.
The last PGA winner to threaten an over-par finish was Larry Nelson at PGA National in 1987, at one under. The last to actually end up in black numbers was Dave Stockton, who shot one over at Congressional in 1976. And we all remember what fantastic battles those two tournaments were, right? With no rain in the forecast and no apparent watering intervention coming from the PGA of America folks, we're headed that way. Maybe that's appropriate, though. Oakland Hills (Club motto: Good Thing We Have a North Course, Too) is a punch in the mouth on an average day, from the members' tees. No reason anybody else should have any fun -- and get paid $1.5 million for it.
In that spirit, I'll pick the super-loose (and borderline goofy) Brandt Snedeker, currently three off the pace, to handle adversity better than the rest and win his first major.