BROOKLINE, Mass. — The U.S. Open normally waits until the ultimate day of its 72-hole crucible to toy with the world’s best golfers. But perhaps in tribute to the venerable history of this yr’s host, vexing conditions — blustery winds, thick rough and fast greens — began to crush the wills and sap the souls of the players 24 hours early on the Country Club outside Boston.
With an under-par rating a rarity, the highest of Saturday’s third round leaderboard was overhauled regularly. Ultimately, a handful of this yr’s hottest golfers remained in contention, joined by some lesser-known names to establish what figures to be an entertaining final-round slugfest against a golf course that certainly one of the co-leaders, Will Zalatoris, called “an absolute beast.”
Zalatoris’s determined round of 67, the bottom on Saturday, left him four-under par for the championship, tied with Matthew Fitzpatrick of England, who shot a two-under par 68. Jon Rahm, the defending U.S. Open champion, squandered a late lead within the round to fall one stroke behind Zalatoris and Fitzpatrick.
Rahm had rallied from a stumbling start in his first 13 holes to make three birdies from the 14th to the seventeenth holes. That moved him to five-under par for the championship.
But Rahm’s drive from the 18th tee dribbled right into a bunker on the left side of the green. Rahm’s first try to clear the bunker’s high lip failed, and his ball rolled back into the sand. His next shot landed within the easy-to-find 18th hole front bunker. The mix of mistakes brought a messy end to Rahm’s round: a double bogey that dropped him into third place.
Afterward, Rahm said he misjudged how deep his golf ball had been within the sand, partially since it was getting dark.
“I had a 9-iron in hand, that’s plenty to recover from that lip,” he said. “Perhaps I used to be attempting to get too cute — on the lookout for one other birdie.
“However it doesn’t really matter much,” Rahm added. “I’m content where I’m and comfortable with how I played.”
Three golfers were tied for fourth at two-under par, including Keegan Bradley, a Vermont native who was roundly cheered by the Latest England crowd as he walked up the 18th fairway on Saturday. Adam Hadwin of Canada, ranked one hundred and fifth in the lads’s world golf rankings, shot a fair par 70 to tie Bradley. Scottie Scheffler, the reigning Masters champion, joined the group after a chaotic, inconsistent round.
Zalatoris was certainly one of the few who rarely struggled Saturday, with 4 birdies and just one bogey. Even when he badly sliced his last tee shot of the day 35 yards to the suitable of the 18th fairway, he landed in a corridor between a grandstand and one other temporary structure.
Though 224 yards away from the opening, he had enough of a gap to lace a precise long iron into the famed, mammoth bunker that protects the 18th green. From there, Zalatoris splashed a spinning, gutsy shot from the sand after which sank a six-foot par-saving putt.
Although Zalatoris is just 25, he’s playing in his ninth major golf championship and has already contended for a legacy-defining title multiple times. Last month, he lost the P.G.A. Championship playoff against Justin Thomas, and he finished second on the 2021 Masters Tournament. He also finished tied for sixth at this yr’s Masters and on the 2020 U.S. Open.
The narrow defeats in majors haven’t demoralized Zalatoris.
“I do know I’m going to get one,” he said after this yr’s P.G.A. Championship. “It’s only a matter of time.”
But Zalatoris knows the battle against the Country Club’s devilish, decades-old challenges is not going to be won, only survived.
“The golf course takes a lot discipline and patience,” he said on Saturday evening. “That was the toughest golf course that I’ve ever played. It’s just really easy to compound mistakes out here. In fact, you’ll be able to do this in major championships on the whole, but especially this one.”
Zalatoris paused briefly, nodded his head, then repeated: “Especially this one.”
Matching Zalatoris with a robust back nine was Fitzpatrick, who won the 2013 U.S. Amateur on the Country Club. Fitzpatrick, who was tied for second entering the fourth round of last month’s P.G.A. Championship, bogeyed his first hole Saturday but shot three-under for the remaining of his round.
Fitzpatrick, who’s 27 and ranked 18th worldwide, also found himself within the sprawling bunker in front of the 18th green late within the third round. He had a harder lie and needed to accept bogey.
With about two hours left within the third round, it appeared that Scheffler, ranked No. 1, was going to take a commanding lead into the ultimate round. Due to an eagle from 102 yards on the par-5 eighth hole, Scheffler was three-under par through 10 holes and six-under par for the tournament.
But Scheffler’s tee shot on the short, downhill par-3 eleventh hole flew over the green right into a hazard. A clunky chip and one other dicey pitch that trundled 25 feet downhill past the opening led to a double bogey. Two flubbed chips on the following hole cost Scheffler one other stroke to par. Improbably, that became the primary of three consecutive bogeys that saw Scheffler tumble from his perch at the highest of the leaderboard.
Only two golfers in the sector who played in last week’s inaugural LIV Golf event made the cut to qualify for this weekend’s final two rounds. Dustin Johnson shot a one-over par 71 on Saturday and is two-over par for the tournament. Richard Bland shot a 72 Saturday and is four-over for the championship.
The opposite 11 LIV series golfers who went home after the opening two rounds were a combined 83-over par, the futility highlighted by Phil Mickelson’s 11-over-par finish, although Louis Oosthuizen’s six-over par was unsightly as well.
While Bryson DeChambeau and Patrick Reed have yet to play a LIV Golf event, they’ve committed to the series. Each have been steadily declining on this planet rankings and their performances this week is not going to reverse that trend. DeChambeau shot 76 on Saturday and is now eight-over for the competition. Reed shot 75 and is six-over for the tournament.