By Jim Litke AP Sports Columnist
MEDINAH, Ill. (AP) -- If Friday was just about the golf, Geoff Ogilvy would have owned the joint.
For the second day in a row, the Aussie was smack dab in the middle of the biggest gallery -- for most of the day, it felt like the only gallery on sprawling Medinah Country Club -- and unlike playing partners Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, Ogilvy actually spent most of it playing from the middle of the fairway. Not that most people noticed.
Though Ogilvy and Woods are tied at 7-under 137, a stroke off the lead and three better than Mickelson, when the three emerged from the scoring trailer after the second round, his two more illustrious companions were immediately encircled by media scrums. Seizing on the opportunity, one opportunistic TV interviewer pulled Ogilvy over to the side.
"Sure," Ogilvy joked before the on-air light flashed, "get the Australian out of the way."
That won't be an easy task over the weekend, based on the way Ogilvy played the first two days here. He beat Woods and Mickelson in every statistical category that mattered -- most birdies, fairways hit and greens in regulation, not to mention fewest putts -- and just as impressive, Ogilvy looked like he belonged.
"Well," said Woods, "there's a reason why he's the U.S. Open champion."
"Man," echoed Mickelson, "he sure hit it pure."
If only the crowds lining every fairway were half as impressed.
At No. 6 Mickelson hit an overhanging branch barely 30 yards from the tee with his drive and the ball caromed way right, finally coming to rest some 50 yards right of the fairway. In amoeba-like fashion, most of the gallery along the right side lurched off in that direction, past a line of trees, and surrounded the ball. The few spectators who hadn't peeled off proceeded to slide down the ropes and clustered in the right rough, where a marshal had thrown his hat over Woods' errant drive to make sure his caddie could find it.
Ogilvy, meanwhile, striped his drive down the middle of the fairway, hit his approach to 8 feet and watched Woods and Mickelson scramble all over the place with a sly smile on his face. Soon after, the three were reunited on the green. In short order, Mickelson knocked down a 40-footer for par to wild cheers, and Woods, accompanied by a loud roar, rolled in a 12-footer to save his.
By the time Ogilvy made his birdie, about all the crowd could summon was polite applause. It was the third of four straight birdies, and the reaction to the others wasn't much better. Instead of being exasperated, the self-deprecating Aussie was grateful.
"A lot of guys would have killed for an experience like that," he said. "I'm pretty fortunate I got to play two days with those guys. One, because you learn a lot by watching them play. And two, because you learn how to deal with all the stuff that goes on in their world.
"It's a bit different from mine," he added. "They can keep their world, but it's fun for a few days. You can't help but gain confidence."
But that wasn't all.
While Ogilvy never expected to be the crowd favorite, he did draw some satisfaction from being recognized now and then. Until he capitalized on Mickelson's meltdown at the U.S. Open in June, he was often confused with PGA Tour regular Joe Ogilvie. So much so that on Thursday, squeezed in among all the "Go, Phil!" and "You're the man, Tiger!" shouts was at least one "Go, Joe"
"Obviously, the crowd was a bit more vocal today than yesterday. I guess they had a bit more time," Ogilvy said, recalling Thursday's 8:30 a.m. tee time, "to get themselves in the mood.
"But there were no more 'Go, Joes!' today," he added with some satisfaction, "and quite a few more, 'Go, Geoffs!"
As group dynamics go, this threesome would have been good for a week's worth of "Dr. Phil" shows.
Woods and Mickelson, despite being the two biggest stars in the golfing galaxy, rarely spend time in each other's orbit and never by choice. Ogilvy, on the other hand, gets along well with both. He described the few snippets of conversation he picked up as "normal stuff, schedules, what club did you hit there or -- I don't know.
"But I don't think," he added, "they were talking about where they were going to dinner tonight."
Even so, Ogilvy acknowledged he was even more in awe of how both Woods and Mickelson manage to play so well surrounded by constant chaos.
"There's just so much craziness and background noise and stuff going on," he said.
Not that it's always a bad thing.
Woods crashed his opening tee shot way left of the fairway, but arrived to find his ball only a few yards left of a fairway bunker. It turns out one of his fans, watching it hook more and more, reached up an arm and deflected it toward the fairway.
"It's nice to have Shaq out there," Woods laughed, as if it happens all the time, "knocking them back."
Copyright 2006 Associated Press. All rights reserved.
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