Tiger misses cut; Stricker leads by one at Open

MAMARONECK, N.Y. -- Colin Montgomerie didn't make a birdie and said he was delighted. Phil Mickelson said bogeys were OK.

And perhaps the strangest words Friday came from Tiger Woods.

He said goodbye.

The U.S. Open is known as the toughest test in golf, but Winged Foot showed it can be a little wacky at times.

Just as surprising as Woods missing the cut for the first time in a major was the guy who wound up atop the leaderboard -- Steve Stricker, who hasn't had his PGA Tour card in two years and hasn't had the lead at a major since 1998.

He got there with a birdie on his final hole, and typical of the day, it wasn't the garden variety. After consecutive bogeys from the bunker, Stricker found himself in the sand left of the ninth green and fearful of another bogey. The ball took one bounce and disappeared into the cup for a birdie and a 1-under-par 69, leaving him the only player under par going into the weekend.

"It's tough to explain," said Stricker, who was at 1-under 139. "But that's the game of golf."

Even so, nothing was more shocking than Woods going home early, though David Duval getting into the hunt was close.

Woods returned from his longest layoff by making his earliest departure at a major, leaving this U.S. Open in the hands of an eclectic mix of players that includes Mickelson, his biggest rival.

"I don't care if you had what transpired in my life of recent or not," said Woods, who was playing for the first time since his father died and posted rounds of 76-76, missing the cut by three shots. "Poor execution is never going to feel very good."

Montgomerie was steady off the tee and on his scorecard. The best player without a major suddenly looks like it's not too late to shed that burdensome baggage, getting around with a 71 to finish at even-par 140.

"Assess the round?" Montgomerie said. "Seventeen pars, one bogey. That's good. That's very good. One mistake is good. No birdies isn't."

Match Play champion Geoff Ogilvy and Kenneth Ferrie each had even-par 70 to finish at 141, and Ferrie showed how quickly this course, with its deep rough and undulating greens, can wipe out a good day. He reached 3 under par for the tournament until double bogeys on the 14th and 15th holes.

For all the thrills and mostly spills, two players considered favorites at this championship were looming not far from lead.

One was Jim Furyk, the 2003 winner at Olympia Fields. He ran off nine straight pars before hitting a few bumps coming in but still managed a 72 and was 2 over, along with Padraig Harrington (69).

The other was Mickelson, who celebrated his 36th birthday Friday, as if the fans needed more reason to cheer.

The Masters champion, trying to join Woods as the only players in the past 50 years to win three straight majors, opened with consecutive bogeys and appeared headed down the leaderboard like so many others. But he limited his mistakes, including an up-and-down on his final hole to escape with bogey. Mickelson wound up with a 73, and at 3 over was four shots behind.

"Bogeys are OK," Mickelson said, rare words from a guy who thrives on birdies. "I'm within four shots with two rounds to go. I'm where I wanted to be. All I wanted is a chance."

Another shock -- to everyone but Duval -- was that the former British Open champion was in the mix.

Duval opened with a 77, and most figured he would be gone by the weekend for the 12th straight time in a major. Instead, he went 14 holes without a bogey, rang up four birdies along the way and, except for a double bogey from the rough on No. 6, looked like a contender. He wound up with a 68, matching Arron Oberholser for the best score through two rounds.

"You see the scores when you get done and you don't know what happened," Duval said of his recent play. "It's those little things that need to add up in a round of golf that haven't for me."

Stricker hasn't been atop the leaderboard in a major since the third round of the 1998 PGA Championship at Sahalee, where he finished second to Vijay Singh. He hasn't contended in a major since the 1999 U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2, and his game has fallen so far that he hasn't even kept his full PGA Tour card the last two years.

But he made it through sectional qualifying a week ago Monday, and he's making the most of the opportunity.

"I feel tons more pressure when I'm trying to make a cut," he said.

He holed out from the sand for birdie at No. 2, but the bunker shot with larger ramifications came at the 514-yard ninth, his last hole. Stricker was kicking himself as he walked toward the green, knowing he had let a good round slip away. His perspective changed when the ball hopped once and settled into the cup.

"I was just trying to make sure I got it on the green," he said. "It just came off perfect."

The cut at the U.S. Open is the top 60 and ties, and anyone within 10 shots of the lead. Stricker's birdie knocked out nine players who finished at 10-over, including U.S. Senior Open champion Allen Doyle and Andrew Svoboda, who grew up at Winged Foot.

It also had a big potential effect on Woods, who was on the sixth green when Stricker's score was posted. Instead of being on the cut line, 10 over par for the championship, Woods was suddenly one over the cut. Not that it mattered, as it turned out. He spent too much time in the rough, under the trees, even playing one shot from a bunker on the adjacent East Course.

Two double bogeys on his front nine put him in trouble. His best shots on the back nine were for par. When he finished with consecutive bogeys, all he could was shake hands with his playing partners, telling U.S. Amateur champion Edoardo Molinari, "See you at the British."

Woods might see Mickelson going for a fourth consecutive major at the British.

Lefty's only birdie came on a 30-foot putt on the par-3 13th, but the highlight of his round might have been a bogey on his last hole. Mickelson sliced his tee shot under the trees, and thought he had enough room to get out of trouble. But he caught it fat with a 9-iron, and the ball clipped a branch and settled in deep rough.

He chopped out to more rough in the front of the green, then chipped to 3 feet for bogey.

"Obviously, that could have been a disastrous hole," Mickelson said. "But I feel good about it."

Graeme McDowell (72), Oberholser and Jason Dufner (71) joined Mickelson at 143. Dufner is the only contender to have made it here through local and sectional qualifying, and in between he won a Nationwide Tour event.

In all, 20 players were within six shots of the lead going into the weekend.

And Woods was nowhere to be found.

"Surprised is probably the biggest word," Mickelson said of Woods' missing the cut.

There were plenty of surprises Friday.