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Thursday, September 18, 2014         

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McDowell figures out Pebble while Tiger struggles

By EDDIE PELLS AP National Writer

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PEBBLE BEACH, Calif.  — While Tiger Woods was trying to tame his game, to say nothing of fickle Pebble Beach, Graeme McDowell was pushing him ever closer to the cut line at the U.S. Open.

McDowell, a five-time winner on the European Tour, made six birdies over the first 17 holes of Friday’s second round to get to 4-under par. That was nine shots ahead of Woods, who almost certainly needed to be within 10 to make it to the weekend.

McDowell’s nearest competitors were Alex Cejka, Brendon de Jonge and Dustin Johnson, all at 1 under.

Woods, alternately struggling with his woods, irons and his putter on a cloudy, windy day on the Monterey Peninsula, missed an 8-foot birdie putt on No. 18, then made the turn and made bogeys on Nos. 2 and 3 to balloon to 5 over.

Early on, it looked like it would be a better day for the world’s top-ranked player, who won by 15 here a decade ago, the last time the U.S. Open came to Pebble.

He made his first birdie of the tournament without even using his putter, chipping in on No. 11, then made a more traditional one after knocking his approach to six feet on No. 14.

But he made bogeys on both the par-3s on the back nine, missed the makable birdie try on 18 and slammed his club back into his bag on No. 2 when he stood in a fairway bunker, his ball positioned under a high lip, and realized he’d have to lay up instead of going for the green. He hit a wild drive on No. 3 to set up another bogey, and even on a day where most of the players were struggling, he was falling out of shouting distance from the leader.

The top 60 and everyone within 10 strokes moves to the weekend. Woods was tied for 70th, nine shots behind, through 14 holes. He has missed the cut at a major only twice as a pro, the last time coming last year at the British.

A native of Northern Ireland, McDowell probably felt at home on a damp, breezy 54-degree morning, one that prompted Cejka to bring out his stocking cap, Rocco Mediate to pull his bright blue rain pants from the bag and almost everyone else to wear sweaters.

McDowell, who won two weeks ago in Europe, hit 11 of his first 16 greens in regulation and was making putts. He became just the second player to reach 4 under this weekend, but while de Jonge was there only briefly Friday morning, McDowell was showing some staying power.

He was the first person to take a three-shot lead at a tournament that many players believe won’t feature a below-par score once all 72 holes are played.

First-day co-leader Shaun Micheel made an early birdie to get to 3 under but dropped four shots to fall to 1 over.

Another co-leader, Paul Casey, made an 8 on No. 14 after his approach shot hit the crown of the green and spun back more than 100 feet, completely off the putting surface. His ensuing chip did the same and rolled all the way back, coming to rest at his feet. He hit his fifth shot over the green, then needed three to get down from there — a brutal few minutes for the ninth-ranked player in the world and a sign of how Pebble Beach can eat up almost any player in the field.

Tom Watson, trying to prevent this from being his last round at the U.S. Open, made a birdie on No. 6 and another on 10 to briefly get to 5 over, but gave those two shots back and was at 7 over with two holes to play. The 1982 champion, who almost won last year’s British Open, earned a special exemption to Pebble Beach this year at age 60.

Phil Mickelson had an afternoon tee time, hoping to improve on his 4-over 75 that also didn’t include a birdie.

Mickelson had an adventurous day at Pebble on Thursday, one of the lowlights coming when he bounced a ball off the rock wall on No. 18 and watched it careen far into the ocean.

The 18th was providing plenty of drama on Friday, as well.

—Sergio Garcia hit his ball into the vegetation down near the beach and picked his way down to hit back into the fairway. He made 6 and was 5 over at the turn.

—Harrison Frazer had to do a balancing act, angling his right leg awkwardly on the seawall to play a ball that landed next to the wall in the greenside bunker. He made 7 and was at 11 over at the turn.

—Lee Westwood hit his tee shot into the edge of a bunker and had to take an unplayable lie and drop further back in the bunker. Westwood, the world’s third-ranked player and still in search of his first major, made 6 and was at 4 over midway through his second nine, one shot ahead of Woods but still eight shots off the lead.

Others playing in the afternoon included K.J. Choi, Mike Weir, Ian Poulter and Rafael Cabrera-Bello, all of whom shot 70 to start the day one shot out of the lead and had fallen to three shots behind McDowell with half the field on the course Friday morning.

Despite the wind, the clouds were keeping some of the moisture in the greens, presenting the possibility of better conditions than the players faced late Thursday.

“These greens are just awful,” Woods said following his first round, when he was the only player to hit each of the first 10 greens in regulation, but had no birdies to show for it.

He wasn’t anywhere near as precise Friday, hitting only six of his first 13 greens.







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