- Associated Press - Saturday, June 18, 2011

BETHESDA, MD. (AP) - After some impressive scrambling over the first few holes, Rory McIlroy found what so many others had already discovered Saturday at the U.S. Open _ birdies were there for the taking.

On the soft, accessible Blue Course at Congressional, McIlroy made birdie on No. 5 to get to 12-under par and expand his six-shot lead by a stroke.

His closest competition came from world No. 2 Lee Westwood, who had five birdies and an eagle through 16 holes to get to 5 under for the tournament.

Another shot back were Y.E. Yang, Jason Day, Robert Garrigus and Fredrik Jacobson. Day, Garrigus and Jacobson had combined for 14 birdies and they weren’t the only ones putting up red numbers.

Early in the day, Webb Simpson shot 5-under 66 to move to 1 under _ the first big sign that there could be room to move.

“The golf course is pretty soft. The greens are soft,” said Simpson, who made seven birdies. “I got a couple good lies in the rough today that I probably didn’t deserve. I think you’ll see some pretty good scores like mine, and some pretty high scores, too.”

And yet, McIlroy was expanding the lead, though not before scrambling to steady himself early.

He missed the fairway on No. 3, but punched out and hit a chip shot to tap-in range to save par there. On No. 4, he got up and down from the sand for another par.

But on No. 5, McIlroy made a 12-foot birdie putt to reach 12 under. He missed a 12-footer for birdie on the par-5 sixth and settled for par there.

The course wasn’t overwhelming many, even those who struggled. World No. 1 Luke Donald shot 3-over 74, but wasn’t all that impressed.

“The rough isn’t quite as gnarly as at some other U.S. Opens,” Donald said. “It has a different feel. It almost feels like the Firestone or something. But it’s still tough out there. Some tough pins and you’ve got to play well to shoot a good score.”

Nobody came into the day playing better than McIlroy, who on Friday became the first player to reach 13-under par in the history of the tournament. He closed his round by giving two shots back with a double bogey, but even that didn’t spoil what was widely viewed as one of the most impressive two days of U.S. Open golf anyone can remember.

But McIlroy, who blew a four-shot lead on the last day of the Masters, said he knew his work was only beginning.

“It’s nice to have the records and those kind of things,” he said before his late-afternoon tee time. “But I’ve really got to concentrate on the next 36 holes.”

Before McIlroy took center stage, the most talked-about round of golf in the Beltway was going on a few miles away: President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner teed it up in the early morning at Andrews Air Force Base _ a little politics on the links.

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