Five European Tour Members lie within the top ten at the halfway stage of the 104th US Open Championship at Shinnecock Hills with 2001 Champion Retief Goosen leading the challenge on four under par, two shots adrift of leaders Shigeki Maruyama of Japan and Masters Champion Phil Mickelson.
Goosen moved into the frame for a second US Open Championship title after a sparkling four under par 66 took him to four under par. The winner of the Volvo Order of Merit in 2001 and 2002, fired five birdies with just the one dropped shot on the 11th to surge through the field in his bid to add to his triumph at Southern Hills CC, Tulsa, three years ago.
"I like links golf and this course is obviously playing that way," the 35 year old said.
"It plays a lot like Southern Hills with elevated tees and the greens up above. I feel very comfortable here.
“Obviously I know I can do it, and you've just got to hang in there. It's not going to be easier, but there's got to be a bit of luck on your side, too.”
Fellow South African and the current leader of the Volvo Order of Merit Ernie Els holed out beautifully as he stepped up his bid to oust Tiger Woods from the World Number One spot with an impressive three under par 67. That took Els, who started the week with three dropped shots in his first three holes, to three under par for the Championship and into joint sixth position. Els must win to become World Number One with Woods finishing lower than sixth.
Also on three under par is another European Tour Member, Angel Cabrera. The Argentine, who was in a three way tie for the lead at the conclusion of the first round earlier in the day, posted a one over par 71 after a roller-coaster second round that included an eagle, two birdies, three bogeys and a double bogey.
World Number Three Vijay Singh of Fiji, kept himself in the hunt with a two under par 68 to climb into the top ten.
“I think I had a lot of birdie chances,” said Singh. “My plan was to be aggressive off the tees. I had a lot of sand wedges, even though I missed the fairways, so I couldn't get it as close as I wanted to. But I'm playing well. I just need to make a few putts here and there and hit more fairways.”
A third South African, Trevor Immelman, starting his round at one under par, picked up a hat-trick of birdies from the 11th, his second to move within touching distance of the leaders but was hit hard by a double bogey on the 18th, his ninth hole, when he four putted. However the winner of two titles on The 2004 European Tour International Schedule steadied the ship with nine successive pars on the back nine for a one under par 69 to lie two under at halfway.
Sergio Garcia, one of the pre-tournament favourites following his play-off victory in the Buick Classic last weekend, finished a stroke further back after he carded a two under par 68 to take his halfway total to one under.
“I played well all day but left two or three putts right on the lip,” said the Spaniard. “But I hit the ball better, felt more comfortable off the tee and hit more fairways. I am up there and see what happens tomorrow. It should be fun.”
Other European Tour Members to safely progress to the weekend were Open Champion Ben Curtis, of America, Swede Joakim Haeggman and Welshman Phillip Price, all of whom finished on three over par, although for Price it was tinged with disappointment after he bogeyed each of his final three holes.
Padraig Harrington of Ireland, who lost out to Garcia in the play-off at Westchester at the weekend, added a one over par 71 to his opening 73 to lie four over for the Championship and on the same mark as Ryder Cup team-mate Lee Westwood of England and Australian Peter Lonard while Germany’s Alex Cejka progressed right on the cut mark of five over par.
Two months after winning his first Major Championship by capturing the Masters Tournament at Augusta National, Mickelson was again setting the pace after adding a sparkling four under par 66 to his opening 66 to stand on six under par 134.
Mickelson recorded 17 top ten finishes on Major Championships prior to his victory in April, including fourth in the US Open the last time it was played at Shinnecock Hills in 1995.
"My swing has felt good all year - I'm swinging with confidence," he stated. "I've said in the past that I've always believed I would have had one major by the age of 34 and now that I have I really haven't felt that sense of relief.
"What I have felt is a sense of excitement and anticipation. I can't wait for the up-coming majors now because I feel I'm onto something."
Maruyama joined him at the top of the leaderboard on six under par 134, just one stroke outside the US Open Championship record, with a three under par 67 go into the weekend in the final pairing.