Phil Mickelson looked like the man to beat in the US Open with a flawless round of 4-under 66 at Shinnecock Hills that left the Masters champion tied with Shigeki Maruyama and in great position to capture the second leg of the Grand Slam.
"Phil the Thrill" appears to be a thing of the past. Mickelson kept his driver in the bag Friday, kept big numbers off his card and made every putt inside 8 feet -- the kind of golf that usually wins a US Open.
And if anyone thought he would be satisfied after finally slipping on a green jacket, forget it.
"I really haven't felt that sense of relief," said Mickelson, who ended an 0-for-42 drought at Augusta National. "What I have felt is a sense of excitement and anticipation. I can't wait for the upcoming majors now because I feel like I'm onto something to play well in the big tournaments."
Cheered on by a raucous crowd that loves Mickelson as much as he loves New York, he finished two trips around Shinnecock Hills at 6-under 134. Maruyama joined him late in the afternoon with a 2-under 68, letting a chance to lead a major by himself for the first time slip away when he drove into the rough on his final hole and made bogey.
They will be in the final pairing Saturday, and Maruyama knows who will get the loudest cheers.
"I will get ear plugs for tomorrow," he said.
Jeff Maggert had a 67 and was one shot behind, while former US Open champion Retief Goosen and Fred Funk each had a 66 and were at 4-under 136.
Shinnecock Hills was plenty tough but once again lacked the wind that usually terrorizes the world's best players. Still, it only accepts the best golf, which was evident on a leaderboard that featured all the top players.
Well, all but No. 1.
Ernie Els birdied four straight holes to jump into contention and finished with a 67, only three shots out of the lead at 137. Vijay Singh had a 70 and was another stroke behind.
As for Tiger Woods, he spent much of the round flirting with the cut line until a couple of big par saves, back-to-back birdies and an 8-foot par putt on the final hole gave him a 69. He was at 141, seven shots behind and still holding out hope.
"The great thing about it is the guys aren't going to run away and hide on this golf course," Woods said.
Maybe not, but catching Mickelson is no picnic.
Lefty spent three days at Shinnecock Hills last weekend, learning all the nuances on the links-styled course. He attributes his great play more to preparation than a burden being lifted from ending his major drought.
"I feel as though I'm not having any surprises," he said. "I know that if I hit it over here, I'm OK; if I hit it over here, I don't have a chance, and so forth. I think that has given me a lot of confidence playing the course."
Angel Cabrera had a 71 to join Els at 3-under 137, while '95 US Open champion Corey Pavin had a 71 and was in the group at 138 with Singh.
Jay Haas, the first-round co-leader trying at 50 to become the oldest winner of a major, made double bogey on the final hole for a 74 and slipped six shots behind.
Mickelson had to play three holes Friday morning to complete his first round, and he immediately got in trouble by going long on the par-3 seventh. His ball was buried in a thick mess of grass, and he faced a steep slope to a green that went down toward the bunkers.
He chopped it up the hill in a safe place, rolled his par putt some 8 feet by and holed that for a worthy bogey.