• US Open, Round Two

Donald rides out blip as Tiger & Rory keep in touch

Alex Dimond at Merion June 14, 2013
Luke Donald ran into turbulence during the mid-part of his second round © AP

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Luke Donald faces an interesting wait to find out just how good his start to this US Open has really been, after he sat just one shot off the early lead despite a horrible six-hole stretch on Friday.

Donald, who started his second round two-under par after two late bogeys while cleaning up his first round earlier in the day, quickly reached four-under with successive birdies at the 12th and 13th.

But a difficult run after the turn - where another birdie at the par-three third was more than offset by five dispiriting bogeys - saw him tumble back over par, before another timely birdie at a long par-three, this time the ninth, enabled him to get in the clubhouse at level-par.

That was a benchmark only beaten about an hour later, as Billy Horschel impressively birdied the last to shoot comfortably the best score of the day - a 67 that put left him the only player under par after 36 holes.

At the time he tapped in for par at the tenth, only Phil Mickelson and Nicolas Colsaerts - two players yet to even start their second rounds - were still ahead of him on the leaderboard at Merion, casting his score of 72 in a determinedly positive light.

"US Opens notoriously get harder as the week goes on," Donald said afterwards. "You try not to panic and take each hole as it comes. And it was nice to birdie the ninth."

The travails of the group of players toiling behind him only served to highlight that. World No. 1 Tiger Woods had to scramble manfully just to shoot 70 and post a halfway total of three-over, with Rory McIlroy similarly occupied as he ended on the same score.

"I played well," Woods said."I just made a couple of mistakes out there today, but I really played well. Maybe I could have gotten one or two more [shots] out of it, but it was a pretty good day."

McIlroy concurred: "I'm very happy - I'm right in there for the weekend. I don't think I'll be too far away by the end of the day."

Adam Scott, the reigning Masters champion, arguably outplayed both his playing partners from the tee - but simply could not get a putt to drop as his seven-over finish left him unlikely even to make the cut.

On the same score, Lee Westwood (77) faces an identical proposition.

Leading the way, Donald always seemed to be involved in some drama or other. Starting on the 11th, the Englishman's two birdies in his opening three holes came in fortuitous fashion - holing a long putt on the relatively straightforward 12th, before slam-dunking a flop shot on the 123-yard 13th after somehow contriving to miss the green.

What Merion's East Course gave away, however, it would eventually take back. Another missed green at the 15th cost him one of those shots, before some errant course management needlessly burned another stroke at the par-five second.

Donald responded to that with an amazing approach at the long third to hole a six-footer for a birdie two, but then came a truly sticky patch. A repeat bogey at a par-five, this time the fourth, followed - before a water-ball off the tee at the fifth left him requiring an impressive up-and-down just to avoid a double-bogey.

Successive three-putts took his tally of successive bogeys to four and created fears that he was mentally fatiguing, but another precise shot at the ninth ensured a positive finish - the best of the early explorers.

"Other than the two par-fives, I didn't think with the other bogeys I did too much wrong," he added. "It's just a tough golf course. The greens have been tricky to read all week.

"Merion has really shown her teeth. I'm excited to be in contention."

He will return on Saturday one shot behind Horschel, who floated around Merion where others were getting stuck on the mud. A solitary mistake - ironically, at the shortest hole on the course - was shrugged off after birdies at two, 10, 11 and 18, a remarkable afternoon's work by a player who won his first PGA Tour title earlier this year.

The other early finisher threatening par was John Senden, who has long shown a liking for difficult conditions. The Australian carded a 71 moments before Donald finished to assert himself as a threat heading into Saturday at one-over.

It remains to be seen how close Senden will be to the overnight lead - it could be just two shots when all is said and done. Much of that will depend on Mickelson and Colsaerts, however.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Alex Dimond Close
Alex Dimond is an assistant editor of ESPN.co.uk