BROOKLINE, Massachusetts. – The US Open usually waits until the last day of its 72-hole crucible to play with the best golfers. But, perhaps in honor of this year’s host’s venerable history, nasty conditions – gusty winds, thick, uneven, fast-moving grass – began to crush the will and wither the souls of the players 24 hours before kickoff at the Country Club outside of Boston.
As under-par results are rare, the top of Saturday’s Round 3 leaderboard was frequently revised. In the end, a handful of this year’s hottest golfers continued to argue, joined by some lesser-known names to establish what numbers would be an interesting play in the final round against a golf course that one of the co-leaders, Will Zalatoris, ran. called the “absolute beast”.
Zalatoris’ decisive round of 67, Saturday’s lowest, left him four under par for the championship, tied with England’s Matthew Fitzpatrick, who scored a two under par 68. John Rahm, the defending US Open champion, squandered a late lead in the round, trailing by one hit from Zalatoris and Fitzpatrick.
Ram rallied after a stumbling start on his first 13 holes to make three birdies from holes 14 to 17. This brought him five under par for the championship.
But Ram’s shot from the 18th tee hit the bunker on the left side of the fairway. Ram’s first attempt to get over the high edge of the bunker failed and his ball rolled back into the sand. His next shot hit the easily accessible 18-hole front bunker. A combination of errors led to Ram’s messy end of the round: a double bogey that dropped him to third place.
Ram later said he misjudged how deep his golf ball was in the sand, in part because it was getting dark.
“I had an iron 9 in my hand, that’s enough to get over that lip,” he said. “Maybe I was trying to be too cute – I was looking for another bird.
“But it doesn’t really matter much,” Ram added. “I’m happy with my position and happy with my game.”
Three golfers finished in fourth place, two under par, including Keegan Bradley, a Vermont native who was cheered in New England as he walked down the 18th fairway on Saturday. Adam Hadwin of Canada, ranked 105th in the men’s world golf rankings, even hit par 70 to equalize with Bradley. Scotty Scheffler, the reigning Masters champion, joined the group after a chaotic, volatile round.
Zalatoris was one of the few who rarely wrestled on Saturday, with four birds and only one ghost. Even as he unsuccessfully landed his final tee shot 35 yards to the right of the 18th fairway, he landed in the hallway between the grandstand and another temporary structure.
Even though he was 224 yards from the hole, he had enough room to drive an accurate long iron into the famous giant bunker protecting the 18th green. From there, Zalatoris landed a spinning, bold kick from the sand, and then struck from a height of six feet, saving steam.
Although only 25 years old, Zalatoris is playing in his ninth major golf championship and has already challenged for the legacy-defining title several times. Last month he lost PGA Championship playoff to Justin Thomas, and he finished second at the 2021 Masters Tournament. He also placed sixth at this year’s Masters and at the 2020 US Open.
Small defeats in the majors did not demoralize Zalatoris.
“I know I’ll get one,” he said after this year’s PGA Championship. “It’s just a matter of time.”
But Zalatoris knows that in the battle with the devilish challenges of the country club, one cannot win, but only survive.
“The golf course requires that kind of discipline and patience,” he said Saturday night. “It was the most difficult golf course I have ever played. It’s so easy to make mistakes here. Of course, you can do this at major championships in general, but especially at this one.”
Zalatoris paused briefly, nodded his head, then repeated, “Especially this one.”
Zalatoris’ opponent with a strong back nine was Fitzpatrick, who won the 2013 U.S. Amateur Country Club Championship. Fitzpatrick, who tied for second in the fourth round of the PGA Championship last month, blew his first hole on Saturday but missed by three short by the end of the round.
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Fitzpatrick, 27 and ranked 18th in the world, also found himself in a stretched bunker in front of 18th at the end of the third round. He had more elaborate lies and had to settle for a scarecrow.
Two hours before the end of the third round, it turned out that Scheffler took first place. 1 was about to take the team lead in the final round. Thanks to a 102-yard eagle on the eighth par 5 hole, Scheffler was three under par on 10 holes and six under par in the tournament.
But Scheffler’s tee shot on the short 11th downhill par-3 went over the green and into danger. A clumsy chip and another risky pitch that rolled 25 feet downhill past the hole resulted in a double whammy. Two flopped chips on the next hole cost Scheffler another hit at par. Incredibly, this was the first of three consecutive horrors that saw Scheffler fall from his place at the top of the leaderboard.
Only two golfers who played in the first LIV Golf last week made it to the final two rounds this weekend. Dustin Johnson scored 71 points on Saturday, which is a double point in the tournament. Richard Bland scored 72 on Saturday and has four league points.
The other 11 LIV golfers who returned home after opening two rounds totaled 83 over par, a futility highlighted by Phil Mickelson’s 11 over par finish, although Louis Oosthuizen is also unsightly with six over par.
Although Bryson DeChambeau and Patrick Reid have yet to play in the LIV Golf tournament, they have committed to participating in the series. Both have been steadily declining in the global rankings and their performances this week will not reverse that trend. DeChambeau hit 76 shots on Saturday and now has eight shots. Reed fired 75 shots and six more in the tournament.