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Paul Casey Tames Oakmont With 4-Under 66

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OAKMONT, Pa. (AP) _ The British are showing the Americans how to shoot low scores in the U.S. Open. A day after Nick Dougherty held the first-round lead, Paul Casey did him one better _ or, make that, two shots better _ with a 4-under 66 on Friday.

Casey's score was all the more startling because it came on a day when scores in the mid-70s were commendable at tough-as-reputed Oakmont Country Club.

``They probably think I walked off after 14 (holes),'' Casey said, laughing, when asked what the rest of the field thought of his score. ``I'm still a little bit stunned by it.''

Casey was following up a 7-over 77, so his unexpectedly low round didn't put him in the lead. But with only one red number denoting below-par scores left on the leaderboard by mid-afternoon, Casey was back in contention after he once looked to be in danger of missing the cut.

Dougherty dropped out of the lead early in the second round, with Angel Cabrera of Argentina on top at 1 under through seven holes. Tiger Woods, coming off a first-round 71, was 1 over for his round through eight holes but was only three strokes off the lead.

``I get a little flag hungry sometimes. When it pays off, it results in a very good number, a very low number,'' Casey said. ``But I also have the possibility of going the other way.''

Or much like most of the field was going on a sunny, warm day in which some of the biggest names had some of the highest scores.

Phil Mickelson, who looked to be charging early in his round, had a 77 after a first-round 74 and was at risk of missing the cut for the first time in 31 majors, the longest active streak. Fred Funk (78), J.J. Henry (78) and Sean O'Hair (80) all followed up respectable rounds Thursday with dreadful ones Friday.

Still, the golfers should have been forewarned. The USGA issued this thinly veiled warning before play started Friday: ``Greens are back to their practice round speeds after a day of slightly slower speeds due to rain.''

By late afternoon, there were 32 scores of 78 or higher, including a 15-over 85 by former PGA champion Rich Beem.

``Carnage,'' Mickelson called it.

Some other words, too.

Mickelson hurt his left wrist attempting to power a shot out of Oakmont's rough during a practice round several weeks ago, possibly ending any chance he had of winning the U.S. Open right there. He nearly won it a year ago at Winged Foot, only to lose a one-shot lead and the tournament on the final hole.

Mickelson fell apart Friday during a four-hole stretch in which he went double bogey-bogey-bogey-double bogey, beginning with the difficult par-4 No. 7.

That mysterious Mickelson who frequently surfaces during majors _ the one capable of making a big move in a moment or falling out of contention with a sudden thud _ was back again.

Again, the subplot of a U.S. Open became the misadventures of Mickelson. Perhaps he got a little too daring after waking up Friday with much less discomfort in his inflamed left wrist.

He wasn't expecting to make the cut, so he's likely to leave Oakmont with less-than-appreciative words and some unhappy memories. He said the rough was too dense for the practice rounds, and it led to injuries other than his own. Mickelson's trainer, Jim Weathers, said he worked on a half-dozen practice-round injuries Monday alone.

``Well, it's disappointing to dream as a kid about winning the U.S. Open and spend all this time getting ready for it and have the course setup injury, you know?'' Mickelson said. ``You're trying to win and hit great shots, but you're also trying not to end your career on one shot _ or at least suspend it for a while.''

Mickelson displayed the exasperation many felt as the sun dried out 103-year-old Oakmont and made it play up to its nasty reputation as a course that only grudgingly gives up birdies.

Except to the 29-year-old Casey, who was given an ovation as he ended his round on No. 9 by a dozen or so golfers warming up on the adjacent practice green. Colin Montgomerie and Chris DiMarco gestured in appreciation.

``They were giving me that how-on-earth-have-I-shot-that sort of look, which I returned,'' Casey said. ``And I had a lot of guys say `Great round of golf.' ``

A comeback round is becoming a habit for Casey. At last year's U.S. Open, he looked to be out of contention following a 77, but his 54-hole closing stretch was the tournament's best (72-72-69) and he tied for 12th. At the Masters, he followed a 79 with 68-77-71 and tied for 10th.

``A 66, I mean, that's like shooting 8, 9, 10 under somewhere, just for the fact that it's on this course, how precise you have to be,'' said Aaron Baddeley, whose even-par 70 stood out as one of the best rounds of the day.

Casey appreciated the support of a large gallery, one that grew larger and more supportive with every hole.

He likely wouldn't have been greeted so enthusiastically three years ago when, after the 2004 Ryder Cup in suburban Detroit, he was quoted as saying, ``Americans are stupid. I hate them'' _ a reference mostly to how little they keep up on world affairs.

Curiously, Casey was living in Arizona at the time, and the remarks caused him so many problems for a while that he briefly sought professional help to deal with them.
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