Billy Horschel hits spot, stays patient

ARDMORE, Pa. -- Since January, when Billy Horschel played 36 holes with Tiger Woods in the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines, he's been on a mission to define himself as a player who could compete with the likes of the 14-time major champion.

On Friday afternoon at Merion Golf Club, the 26-year-old former Florida Gator did something that not even Tiger has done in his career at the U.S. Open: He hit all 18 greens in regulation on his way to a 3-under 67 for a 1-under total after 36 holes, a magnificent run in this tournament that has him tied for the lead with Phil Mickelson.

The Grant, Fla., native said he didn't know he had hit all greens until he walked off the 18th green.

"It's a cool thing," he said. "I've done it plenty of times in my career. Obviously, it's at a U.S. Open, but I think the softness of the greens helped that."

In the final round at the 1981 Open, also at Merion, David Graham missed only one fairway in an exhibition of accuracy when he closed with a 67 to win the championship. But this is a very different Merion East Course than the one Graham faced in '81.

On Friday, the USGA sought to protect par with very difficult pin positions that nullified whatever vulnerability the rain had brought to the course.

"I think some of the pins you can take on, and there are some pins if you do take on and you miss, you miss badly," Horschel said. "I was pretty happy if I hit 20, 25 feet. If I made the putt I was happy with it. And there's some other pins you can go more aggressive with and get a little closer."

Horschel has come a long way since Torrey Pines, where he was impatient and frazzled by the moment. A turning point came after he shot an 85 in the final round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March.

After that, he went on a four-tournament run that included his first tour win -- at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans -- a tie for second in Houston, a tie for third at the Texas Open and a tie for ninth at Hilton Head.

"I've acquired some patience, not as much as I wish I had," said Horschel, who has worked with sports psychologist Fran Pirozzolo for about a year. "I think the older I get, the more mature I get on the golf course, the more understanding that if I do have a bad stretch of holes, I don't press the panic button right away.

"Patience is something that has always been a struggle for me. I'm doing a really good job of it this week, staying patient and just taking what's in front of me. I'm trying to keep a smile on my face and be happy with anything I do. If I can execute every shot, that's all I can try to do out there this week."

On Wednesday, Horschel played a practice round with Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy. In the 2007 Walker Cup matches at Royal County Down in Northern Ireland, McIlroy beat Horschel 1-up in their singles match.

Afterward, McIlroy let it be known that he wasn't very fond of some of Horschel's on-course antics. "It was great to win," he told reporters. "Especially against [Horschel]. I don't really have much time for him, to be honest."

In 2011, Horschel embarrassed himself in front of family and friends during the final round of the McGladrey Classic, where, after taking the lead early in the day, he had a temper tantrum on the golf course that led him to a 75 and a tie for 20th.

Married now and more settled into life on the tour, Horschel has grown into a mature young man. But he is still very easily distracted. His goal this week is to stay focused through the gleaming lights of a major championship.

"I know it's a big event," he said. "I get distracted too easily out there on the golf course and off the golf course. So it's more or less just focus on what I do, don't worry about anybody else. Don't worry about the crowd noise.

"It's just all about limiting distractions and not thinking about scenarios, what happens if I win or anything. It's just focusing on what I do best, and that's playing golf."

After seeing Horschel jump earlier this year at Bay Hill, Tiger said that it's official, "white men can't jump." Tiger nicknamed Horschel "Credit Card" because he could barely jump over a credit card.

Come Sunday, "Credit Card" might have another opportunity to show how well he can jump in jubilation if he can control his nerves and stay patient enough around Merion over the weekend to win one of golf's grandest prizes.