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Mickelson going for another major

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SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. — Phil Mickelson had to wait a long time for that first major. He's playing like he wants to get No. 2 right away.

The Masters champion surged to the top of the leaderboard at the U.S. Open on Friday, shooting a 4-under-par 66 that left little doubt he's a different player since shaking that hated "best player never to win a major" label.

Mickelson played with patience and intelligence — keeping the ball in the fairway, hitting to the proper side of the greens, not trying any outlandish shots.

Just like that, he's got it all figured out.

With the huge crowds cheering his every move, Lefty stormed past first-round leaders Jay Haas and Angel Cabrera with a 6-under 134.

Shigeki Maruyama, who also opened with a 66 and played in the afternoon, held pace with Mickelson. The Japanese star was 2 under through nine holes, 6 under for the tournament.

"I can't wait for the majors now, because I feel like I'm onto something to play well in the big tournaments," said Mickelson, who has one bogey in 36 holes at the toughest test in golf.

"The style of golf needed in major championships is significantly different than a regular tour event, which seems to be more attack, attack, attack. The majors seem to be something different."

And here's a potential omen: Mickelson made his first serious run at a major in 1995, tying for fourth in the Open when it was last held at Shinnecock Hills. His chances were ruined on the par-5 16th, which he played at 6-over for the week.

This time, he's 1-under there through the first two rounds, blasting out of the sand to 3 feet for his final birdie Friday.

"Honestly, I didn't even think about what happened at 16 in the past," Mickelson said.

Tiger Woods was nowhere to be found, his 0-for-7 slump in the majors seemingly headed for eight in a row. After a pedestrian 72 on Thursday, he knocked his first tee shot into the hay and took bogey. He was still 1 over for the round at the turn, having missed a short birdie putt at 16, his seventh hole.

"There's an awful long way to go," Woods vowed.

Mickelson was locked in, missing only three greens and three fairways, a remarkable achievement considering the difficulty of the set-up.

"There's a lot of hard shots out there," playing partner Kirk Triplett said, "and he hit a lot of good shots."

It helped that the feared ocean breezes didn't materialize for the second day in a row, making it easier to find the fairway and keep it on the green. Bright sunshine and thick, muggy air prevailed.

Mickelson was 0-for-42 as a pro in golf's biggest events before he finally broke through at the Masters two months ago — shooting 31 on the back nine Sunday and sinking an 18-foot birdie putt on the final hole to beat Ernie Els by a stroke.

If Mickelson keeps playing like this at Shinnecock Hills, he'll be halfway to a Grand Slam. He's certainly changed his "Phil the Thrill" mentality, playing it safe by rarely using driver.

Mickelson also pointed to his routine before the tournament. He spent three days at Shinnecock Hills last week, practicing and getting familiar with the links-style course.

"You're going to perform like you prepare," he said. "When I got here, I was not surprised by any situation on the golf course. That makes for some good shots."

Fifty-seven players returned early Friday to complete their first rounds, having been forced off the course Thursday evening by soupy fog that made it difficult to see the greens. Mickelson finished up a 68.

Fred Funk closed the second round with two straight birdies for 66, leaving him at 136. Cabrera fell back during an up-and-down round — everything from eagle to double-bogey — but still added 71 to his opening 66 for a 3-under 137.

The 50-year-old Haas, who also started with 66, fell back in the afteroon. He played the first 10 holes at 1 over.

Corey Pavin completed a 67 — equaling his best round ever in the Open — and tacked on a 71. The diminutive Pavin won this event the last time it was played at Shinnecock, but that was nine long years ago. He hasn't won anywhere since '96.

"I didn't think I would win," he said. "I just wanted to come in and play the best I can with absolutely no expectations,"

Pavin showed some of the old fire at No. 5 when he rolled in a putt from the fringe.

"Come on! Come on! Go!" he yelled as the ball hung briefly on the lip. When it finally dropped in, he shook his head defiantly.

Making a charge: two-time Open champion Els. Four straight birdies on the front side pushed the Big Easy to 4 under.

It was a good day all around for the South Africans.

Retief Goosen, the 2001 Open champion, followed an even-par first round with a 66. Trevor Immelman reeled off three birdies in a row on the back side, getting to 4 under.

"Obviously, I know I can do it," Goosen said. "You've just got to hang in there."

Vijay Singh, who also has a chance to claim No. 1 in the world rankings, was right in the mix. The Fijian went 68-70 and was four strokes behind Mickelson.

At 4 under was Jeff Maggert, a perennial contender at the Open but never a major winner.

Maybe he should ask Mickelson for advice.

Lefty started the day at the fearsome par 3 No. 7. Things didn't look good when he carried the green with his tee shot, winding up in the thick rough. From there, just about any score was possible, but he managed to keep it to bogey — his first of the tournament — by sinking a 4-foot putt.

"By far the hardest hole on the course," Mickelson said. "It wasn't fun spending the night thinking about that hole."

He sure had some fun after that.