Horschel, Mickelson lead after 2 rounds at Open

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Horschel, Mickelson lead after 2 rounds at Open

Updated June 15, 10:15 a.m.

ARDMORE, Pa. -- Following a 3-under-par 67 on Friday, Billy Horschel finished Friday in the lead at the U.S. Open, tied with Phil Mickelson.

The second round, delayed three hours thanks to the completion of Thursday's first round, was completed shortly after 10 a.m. Saturday morning, when 23 of 26 groups who teed off in the afternoon on Friday finally made their way in.

Saturday's third round is scheduled to begin at 12:28 p.m. Players will go off in threesomes on both holes No. 1 and 11.

Mickelson and Horschel lead by one shot over five players at even-par, including Luke Donald, Steve Stricker, Justin Rose, Ian Poulter and amateur Cheng-Tsung Pan.

Horschel's 67 came after he was forced to finish his first round in the morning before heading back out for his second round not even an hour later. His round tied Mickelson's from Thursday for the low score of the tournament.

"Yeah, 66 sounded better but I three-putted No. 13," he said. "I'll take the round. It was a good day. Obviously, it was a long day [with] 29 holes.

"But it was a great day. Four birdies at a U.S. Open. I'll take it."

Mickelson, who at one point fell all the way back to even par, birdied the 18th hole after the horn had sounded to shoot a 2-over-par 72 and reclaim a share of the lead.

"It was a nice way to finish on the 18th," Mickelson said. "I fought hard all day, let a lot of birdie opportunities slide early and in the middle of the round. I fought hard to stay in there and hit a lot of good quality shots. Made a bunch of good pars.

"On 18, when you don't really expect to get one, I put the ball in a good spot and was able to roll one in. It felt good."

Twelve players are within at least three shots of Mickelson and Horschel.

World Nos. 1 and 2 Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy both finished Friday 3-over for the tournament. They'll be paired together for the third straight day on Saturday.

After his grimacing and shaking of his left arm caught attention on Thursday, Woods disclosed Friday afternoon that he's been dealing with an elbow injury since he won the Players Championship back in May (see story). Woods was another who had to finish his first round Friday morning only to head back out onto the course shortly thereafter.

"Long day," he said, laughing. "And I'm hungry."

Seventy-three players survived the 8-over-par 148 cut line to play the weekend. Notable names who made the cut right on the number include Dustin Johnson, Brandt Snedker and Mike Weir.

Other notables who will miss the weekend include Zach Johnson (11-over), Keegan Bradley (12-over), Nick Watney (11-over), 2010 champ Graeme McDowell (13-over), 2009 champ Lucas Glover (13-over), Angel Cabrera (15-over), and 2003 champ Jim Furyk (16-over).

Scores ballooned for a second day at Merion on Friday, when despite soft conditions, the rough proved too much for many too handle (see story). Just one hole, the par-3 13th played under par on Friday.

Oosthuizen withdraws
Louis Oosthuizen withdrew from the tournament on Friday with an undisclosed injury. Oosthuizen nearly didn't come to Merion this week, as his wife is pregnant with their third child. The 2010 British Open champion put up a 75 in his opening round.

Robert Garrigus (16-over) also withdrew Saturday morning.

'That Kangaroo stole my ball'
Mickelson's round was brought to temporary stop on the front nine when a groundhog ran onto the fairway. Watch the video here.

Roman Lyubimov getting comfortable, impressing with hard, heavy style

Roman Lyubimov getting comfortable, impressing with hard, heavy style

Ron Hextall said when Flyers training camp began there were spots to be won and spots to be taken from others.

Even though it’s still early in camp, it seems fairly clear Russian forward Roman Lyubimov is going to steal someone’s job among the bottom-six forwards.

He’s been the right wing on Boyd Gordon’s line in camp with Chris VandeVelde on the left side. 

That fourth line worked again Tuesday night as the Flyers opened their home preseason schedule with a 4-0 win over the Islanders at the Wells Fargo Center.

The 6-2, 207-pound Lyubimov plays a heavy game. He is tenacious in one-on-one battles and, perhaps more importantly, jumps on loose pucks after faceoffs as demonstrated during the 2-0 loss in New Jersey on Monday.

Flyers coach Dave Hakstol took notice.

“It’s a nice trait for a player to have automatically and it’s an important trait,” Hakstol said.

“His competitiveness and his battle level on 50-50 pucks, things like that, hasn’t changed from Day 1.”

After spending six years in the KHL, it appears Lyubimov has found a home here. He’s already making a nice adjustment to the smaller rink, too.

“Last couple of years, playing for the Red Army team, there were some pretty physical games,” he said, via translator Slava Kouznetsov. “I think it was pretty close to NHL games. I just have to adapt to the smaller ice.”

He logged 3:55 ice time on the penalty kill against the Devils — second only to rookie defensive prospect Ivan Provorov — and Hakstol has his sights set on using him in that capacity if he makes the final cut.

While playing for the Russian Army, Lyubimov was used in a shutdown role and on the PK with little power-play time.

“I was more defense-oriented,” he said. “If you don’t let the [opponent] score on you, it’s easier to win games. Here, I’ll see what the coaches want me to do. I watched a lot of NHL games. One of my criteria was to be good at the penalty kill.”

The only hard question Hakstol has to answer is Lyubimov’s adjustment to the smaller rink.

“I think he is still working through that but he is game for it,” Hakstol said. “He doesn’t look for open ice in terms of shying away from traffic areas. He is battling in those high traffic areas.”

Pierre-Edouard Bellemare made the adjustment quickly, coming over from France. Michael Raffl played a couple games with the Phantoms after coming over from Austria.

It’s possible the Flyers could start Lyubimov with the Phantoms and then call him up.

“He plays a small-ice type of game,” Hextall said of Lyubimov. “He goes hard to the net, he’s good on the wall, does all those little things. Space I don’t think will affect him as much as other guys.”

He had a prime scoring chance in Tuesday’s game against the Islanders, chasing down a puck behind the net and getting a wraparound that was blocked at the post by defenseman Kyle Burroughs.

Lyubimov finished with 12:07 of ice time and two shots.

His best shot to make the cut is to take away VandeVelde's spot on the fourth line (see story). Once Bellemare returns from the World Cup of Hockey, someone has to go. Another factor here is whether the club carries 23 players instead of 22.

Lyubimov said what impressed him about the Flyers was how players are treated here, on and especially off the ice.

That was always something former Flyers loved about their late owner Ed Snider. He treated them as family, not employees.

“There is a difference,” Lyubimov said. “Everything here is comfortable and done for the players. Here I live five minutes from the rink. In Moscow, it’s 45 minutes. Everything works for me here.”

So much so, Lyubimov is bringing his wife, Katrina, and their 1-year-old daughter Alexa, over this fall to live here even though he has just a one-year deal worth $925,000.

“I want to stay here more than a year,” he said. “I will do whatever I have to do. This is the place I wanted to come.”

Noel, Brown have had open dialogue about Sixers' big man situation

Noel, Brown have had open dialogue about Sixers' big man situation

GALLOWAY, N.J. -- Nerlens Noel’s recent comments on the logjam of big men on the Sixers' roster did not come as news to head coach Brett Brown. While Noel had not been this publicly outspoken on the issue, he and Brown have been having open discussions about it. 

“I have been talking to Nerlens a lot and I have a fondness for him,” Brown said Tuesday on the first day of training camp. “I don’t begrudge Nerlens Noel at all for what he said. I don’t have any problems with it.”

The Sixers' crowded frontcourt this season is a continuation of last season’s conundrum in which Brown was tasked with playing Noel and Jahlil Okafor, two natural centers, together. The depth has increased with the return of Joel Embiid and additions of Dario Saric and Ben Simmons. 

So when Noel doubled down on Monday by saying, "I don't see a way it can work,” Brown recognized where the center's opinions were coming from as he enters his fourth season in the NBA. 

“I feel if we do anything well, we communicate with our players freely,” Brown said. “It is one hundred percent transparent – hard conversations ahead, easy conversations ahead. I have spoken with Nerlens about this a lot. 

“My messaging and my mood and attitude and things that come out of my mouth haven’t changed once. I feel very confident that I’m giving him the advice that he should hear from me and it still allows me to do my job. 

“We have talked about it freely, like I have talked about it with Jahlil and Joel. Those situations are part of pro sports. They’re ever-present with me and us right now.”

Noel has been a rare mainstay among a revolving door of players over the past three years. He is in a unique situation with Brown in that the two have experienced a long list of the team’s ups and downs together. Noel feels comfortable talking honestly with Brown about his viewpoints. 

“I’ve known Brett probably longer than most guys here and we’ve built a different type of relationship,” Noel said. “It’s been very front and forward and we talk and we keep it real. That’s what he’s been doing with me and that’s why I’m able to continue to talk to him about myself and him just telling me what position I’ll be in – he’ll try to put me in – to succeed.”

With Brown having an understanding of Noel, his focus is on what Noel can bring to the team this season. He believes Noel has an edge over Embiid and Okafor for minutes early on because Noel the only one of the trio starting camp without restrictions from previous injuries. 

There is a tough competition for playing time among the bigs, and camp is about proving oneself through basketball, not through personal opinions. Brown was impressed on the first day of camp by the manner in which Noel approached the morning practice amid the comments.

“He has handled it with me and in the training session today like a pro,” Brown said. “He came to mean it. He didn’t back down at all. There was no moping or sulking or him being stubborn. He played. That’s what he has to do. I think that’s a real reflection of anybody of how you handle adversity. Today he handled it like a true pro and a true competitor.”