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The Hills Have Eyes

Photo: Morry Gash/AP

"It just feels like I'm leaving four, five shots out there is all," Phil Mickelson said.

TULSA, Okla. — The Chicken Little prediction for this 89th PGA Championship was that players would go too low, but almost halfway through the PGA it appears Southern Hills is almost as good a test of golf as it is of sunscreen. That may be why so many players are coming off the course sounding as if they just shot 86 with bunions and a backache.

"When you're someone in my position who has never won a major, never won one of these big events, you can't throw away all of these opportunities," Woody Austin said after his second round Friday. "I don't have that luxury."

He'd just shot an even-par 70 and was two under for the tournament. He was two strokes out of the lead held at the time by Oklahoma State alumnus Scott Verplank, the 43-year-old local favorite who fired a mistake-free 66 in the second round.

Southern Hills is the koala bear of major venues: It could hardly look less menacing, but it can be ferocious. Players are having trouble from the first hole, the dogleg-left par-4 that offers a postcard view and a fairway like a Crisco-covered aircraft carrier. Tom Lehman missed right, Sergio Garcia took an iron for safety and missed left, and Geoff Ogilvy missed way left. Bob Tway made 6. John Daly hit his drive in the 4th fairway.

The holes at the Hills are pretty but lethal, most infamously the 200-yard, par-3 6th, where U.S. Open champion Angel Cabrera made a 10 on Thursday. Consider the dubious achievement of back-to-back double-bogeys, a rarity on Tour known as the In-N-Out Burger for the chain's "Double-Double." Not only did Tim Clark and Darren Clarke each make an In-N-Out Burger on Thursday, not only did Brian Bateman and Kevin Burton each make In-N-Out Burgers on Friday, but Rocco Mediate made back-to-back-to-back double-bogeys on Nos. 13-15, going from three to nine over Friday. (He withdrew.)

Three straight doubles by a Tour pro? That's so rare no one's even come up with a name for it.

The course claimed several other notable victims. Jim Furyk, Davis Love III and Vijay Singh were part of a group of 12 players who missed the cut by a shot at 6-over par. Rory Sabbatini, who played in the final group with Tiger Woods last weekend and said he was playing better than he ever had going into a major, shot 74-76 to miss the cut. Masters champion Zach Johnson, Cabrera and his countryman Andres Romero also missed. England's Nick Dougherty shot 79-74 to get the weekend off. Bubba Watson shot matching 79s and was gone.

With so much calamity around every turn, it's hardly surprising that scores weren't better, but don't tell that to the players. They look at the course's shortish par 4s, its cupcake, 173-yard, par-3 11th hole, and think there's no way they shouldn't be posting more red numbers.

"It just feels like I'm leaving four, five shots out there is all," Phil Mickelson said. "I felt like on 13 I started out with a couple of poor bogeys that weren't very hard pars. Missed a four-foot eagle putt, just didn't get any momentum."

He had just shot a second-round 69 that put him at two over for the tournament, within range of the leaders.

"The heat is prohibiting me from excessive practice," Mickelson continued after making his first cut since he won the Players in May. "My game is better. My hand feels pretty good and I'm excited about playing golf. I just, again, want to get the ball in the hole a little quicker."

Alas, it could have been worse. He could have gagged on a triple scoop of Rocco Road.

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