SOUTHAMPTON – (Staff and Wire Service Report) – There was no place to hide during the third round of the U.S. Open, not even for the world’s No. 1 golfer, Dustin Johnson, who stumbled to a 7-over-par 77 on Saturday at harder-than-nails Shinnecock Hills Golf Club in Southampton, in the highly-toned enclave of Long Island’s East End.
Despite the disappointing round, Johnson, who won this championship in 2016 at Oakmont outside Pittsburgh, is still among those on top of the leaderboard after 54 holes.
Ian Poulter on 17th at Shinnecock Hills GC
His three-day total of 3-over 213 is tied with Daniel Berger, Tony Finau and defending champion Brooks Koepka after a day when the course and the windy conditions on Long Island took its pound of flesh from virtually every one of the best golfers in the world.
“I didn’t feel like I played badly at all,” Johnson said. “Seven over, you know, usually is a terrible score, but, I mean, with the greens the way they got this afternoon … they were very, very difficult.
“I had seven or eight putts that easily could have gone in the hole that didn’t, you know, and that’s the difference between shooting 7 over and even par.”
Berger and Finau each carded a 66 in the morning round after beginning Saturday tied for 45th and 11 shots off Johnson’s overnight four-stroke lead. They both finished their rounds before Johnson even teed off and will play in the final pairing on Sunday, right after Johnson and Koepka.
The golfers playing in the afternoon got the worst of the conditions, and it showed in the scores. How difficult were things on Saturday? The 36-hole cut was made at 8 over; the players at that number after three rounds are tied for 16th.
“Some of these pins are three off the edges, where you hit one by, three feet past the hole and it’s going 40 yards away from the green,” Berger said in an interview that was conducted before the real carnage of the day began. “I think to get out there early and play a good round really was to my benefit.”
Saturday’s scoring average of 75.33 was the highest for a third round in the U.S. Open since 2000 at Pebble Beach.
“I would say in 18 holes I played today, I don’t think there was one gettable pin,” Berger explained. “I hit plenty of really good shots in there. I hit one on the par 5, No. 5, that I landed 10 feet from the hole, and it ended up 50 yards away. So that’s just how it is out here.”
Justin Rose of England is alone in fifth, one stroke behind the leading foursome, with Sweden’s Henrik Stenson in sixth another shot in arrears.
Eleven players are within four strokes of the leaders heading into the final round.
“I think more than six is going to be too far back, but I do think you can make five or six shots up on this golf course,” Finau said. “If I can feed off the energy I had late in today’s round and continue that momentum into tomorrow, it will be fun.
“You know, this is what we play for. This is what we practice for. To put ourselves in contention and just in a good position going into Sunday. Just to have that opportunity going into today — I mean, I barely made the cut. Going into today, I needed something special to happen to even have an outside chance.”
Johnson was 6-over par on his first eight holes on Saturday — with a double bogey on the second and bogeys on the fourth, sixth, seventh and eighth holes — but didn’t give up the sole lead until a three-putt bogey on the 18th because of the carnage that was going on ahead of him.
“I just need to go out and play like I did the first couple days, even like I did today,” Johnson said when asked what he has to do to win on Sunday. “I felt like I hit a lot of great shots out there today. Need to putt a little better tomorrow.”
Koepka had a chance to tie Johnson for the lead with a 10-foot birdie putt on the par-3 17th but missed. He then missed the five-foot comebacker as well and bogeyed the hole.
“There was no break — I mean, you can’t lay off the gas pedal at all,” Koepka said. “You’ve just got to keep going, keep firing, play to your spots, play to the center of the green. Sometimes the center of the green isn’t very good on some holes. And if you start putting downhill, downwind, you’ve got no chance.”
Berger’s and Finau’s 66 tied England’s Tommy Fleetwood for the low score posted through the first 2 1/2 rounds of the tournament. Berger, Finau and Kiradech Aphibarnrat of Thailand (68) were the only players to break par Saturday, and they all played in the morning wave.
Conversely, Kevin Chappell (78), Ross Fisher of England (79) and South Korea’s Byeong Hun An (81) carded disastrous rounds during the morning wave. Even worse was the play in the afternoon from Rickie Fowler, who was ninth starting the day and shot an 84, the worst score on the day, to drop into a tie for 61st.
Phil Mickelson put himself into a controversial spot on the 13th hole when he chased down and hit his ball as it was rolling past the hole and down a hill before it stopped. He was given a two-stroke penalty for hitting a moving ball and carded a 10 on the par-4 hole on the way to an 81 for the round.
“I don’t mean disrespect by anybody — I know it’s a two-shot penalty,” Mickelson said. “At that time I just didn’t feel like going back and forth and hitting the same shot over. I took the two-shot penalty and moved on. It’s my understanding of the rules. I’ve had multiple times where I’ve wanted to do that, I just finally did it.”
–Field Level Media