Pebble Beach, Calif. - If ever there was a time to root for a Shaun Micheel resurgence, this would be the week.
The 41-year old Micheel, who won the 2003 PGA Championship, has been hampered by physical setbacks, including a hormonal imbalance in 2005 and a torn labrum in mid-2007.
Micheel's mother, Donna, is back home in Memphis, Tenn., with terminal lung cancer. The cancer has spread and she is not expected to live past August. Still, she insisted on her son coming to Pebble Beach and continuing to play golf.
"She wants me out here, and I think that makes it easier on me," Micheel said. "Moms want what's best for their kids, and I appreciate that."
An emotional Micheel had it going for a while on Friday. He moved to three under and briefly took the solo lead. But at days' end he had a 77 and was four over for the championship. He admitted that his concentration tends to wane as he thinks of his mother.
"I'm really playing for her, and it's nice to play for somebody else other than me," said Micheel, 41. "I hate it that she's going through this, and I hate it for anyone who's going through it. It's a horrible disease, cancer. I've been spending a lot of time with her, and I call her every day. I think there's a guilt factor, too, with me being out here playing."
University of Illinois senior Scott Langley continued his remarkable roll with another magical moment on Friday. The 21-year-old Langley played the toughest section of the golf course in four under par to complete a second-round 69 and punch his Pebble Beach pass for the weekend.
Granted, it's a little expensive, but what are you going to do? "It's a lot, it's pricey coming out here," said Langley. "But it's the experience of a lifetime and I think my parents would say the same thing."
Langley's 36-hole total of 2-over-par 144 represents the low amateur, by three strokes, and he made the cut, which was 7 over, with ease. After bogeying five of his first eight holes on Thursday afternoon, Langley played the next 28 holes in three under par. And if not for a 5-foot miss for birdie on No. 18, he would be in even better shape.
"It was a great round when I needed it today," Langley said. "I really turned it around on the back nine."
A St. Louis amateur had not made the cut at a U.S. Open since 2011 U.S. Walker Cup captain Jim Holtgrieve stayed all four days at the 1978 Open at Cherry Hills Country Club in Colorado. Three years earlier, after he won the 1975 NCAA individual title, Belleville, Ill., native Jay Haas was the low amateur in the '75 U.S. Open at Medinah, finishing tied for 18th.
Hoping to crack Holtgrieve's Walker Cup lineup, Langley set his sights on making the cut this week. Now that he has accomplished that goal - which should go a long way toward fulfilling his Walker Cup wish - he can approach the weekend with nothing to lose.
Watson Wowing Them
Tom Watson still amazes. After opening with a 78 on Thursday, Watson bounced back with a par 71 on Friday and will play on the weekend. Watson, the 1982 U.S. Open champion at Pebble Beach, is here on a special USGA exemption. He has competed in all five U.S. Opens on the grounds. While he didn't quite shoot his age, the 60-year-old Watson did manage to shoot his demographic.
"The crowds were wonderful," said Watson, who tickled the golf world last summer when he came within a playoff of winning the British Open. "[The galleries] were very appreciative. There's quite a bit of applause and, 'Yeah, come on, Tom, you can still do it, do one for the baby boomers, come on. You can do it for the old guys. Come on, you can win this thing.'
"And the way I was playing I was appreciative of the thoughts, but it certainly didn't sway the way I was playing. It was a pretty special time, though, to play Pebble again in the U.S. Open."
Watson acknowledged the course has undergone quite a bit of change over his five appearances.
"It has definitely changed from any other time I played it, with different directions of the fairways," Watson said. "I like those changes, maybe with the exception of 11. I think 11's fairway should be maybe a little more left.
"But bringing the ocean into play, I think was a special thing they did here. I like that. It's going to make Pebble - it's made Pebble - a better golf course."
Els On Board
Ernie Els has two U.S. Opens to his credit, as well as a British Open. But it has been a while since the "Big Easy" has been in contention in this championship.
Els has not had a top-10 at the U.S. Open since he tied for ninth in 2004. But the South African, who had a tie for second in 2000 at Pebble Beach - albeit 15 strokes behind Tiger Woods - has a good feeling about this golf course.
"I love the setup," said Els, 40, whose last U.S. Open win came in 1997 at Congressional, the site of next year's Open. "It's firm. It's fast. I didn't like the greens too much yesterday, but other than that I think it's one of the better setups I've seen at the U.S. Open."
Els was part of a marquee group that included Woods and Lee Westwood during the first two rounds. He fired a 68 on Friday to move to one under for the championship, two strokes off the pace of leader Graeme McDowell, and in a four-way tie for second with Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson and Ryo Ishikawa.
While it's going on 13 years since he won his last U.S. Open, Els agreed his experience is valuable coming into the weekend. But experience also tells him not to get ahead of himself.
"It's been such a long time since I won one of these, but we've got a long way to go," Els said. "Obviously, I needed a round like today to get me back in the tournament, which is nice. We've just got to look at conditions.
"I feel comfortable with my game, you know. I worked really hard coming in here. I feel my game is very good this week, for some reason. So the last two days I felt a bit more calm. I've played this event where I've been very tense and other times I've been quite calm. And all I can say is that the times that I've been tense my game wasn't quite there. There's so much trouble that you've got to stop thinking about it. This week I'm feeling all right."