BROOKLINE, Mass. – The US Open usually waits until the final day of its 72-hole crucible to toy with the world’s best golfers. But perhaps tribute to this venerable history of this year’s host, vexing conditions – blustery winds, thick rough and fast greens – begin to crush and sap the souls of the players 24 hours early at the Country Club outside Boston.
With an under par score of one rarity, the top of Saturday’s third round leaderboard was overhauled frequently. In the end, a handful of this year’s hottest golfers remain in contention, with some lesser-known names set to figure out what an entertaining final round slugfest against a golf course that one of the co-leaders, Will Zalatoris, called. “An absolute beast.”
Zalatoris’s determined round of 67, the lowest 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 US Open champion, squandered a late lead. Zalatoris and Fitzpatrick fall behind a stroke in the round.
Rahm had rallied from a stumbling start to his first 13 holes to make three birdies from the 14th to the 17th holes. That moved him to a five-under par for the championship.
But Rahm’s drive from the 18th tee dribbled into a bunker on the left side of the fairway. Rahm’s first attempt to clear the bunker’s high lip failed with his ball rolling back into the sand. His next shot landed in the easy-to-find 18th hole front bunker. The combination 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 was in the sand, in part because it was getting dark.
“I had a 9-iron in hand, that’s plenty to get over that lip,” he said. “Maybe I was trying to get too cute – looking for another birdie.”
Rahm added: “But it doesn’t really matter much. I am content where I am and happy with how I played. “
Three golfers were tied for fourth at two-under par, including Vermont native Keegan Bradley who was cheered round by the New England crowd as he walked up the 18th fairway Saturday. Adam Hadwin of Canada, ranked 105th in the men’s world golf rankings, shot an even par 70 to tie Bradley. Scottie Scheffler, the reigning Masters champion, joined the group after a chaotic, inconsistent round.
Zalatoris was one of the few who rarely struggled Saturday, with four birdies and only one bogey. Even when he badly sliced his last tee shot 35 yards to the right of the 18th fairway, he landed in a corridor between a grandstand and another temporary structure.
Although 224 yards away from the hole, he had enough of an opening to lace a long iron into the famed, mammoth bunker that protects the 18th green. From there, Zalatoris splashed a spinning, gutsy shot from the sand and then sank a six-foot par-save putt.
Although Zalatoris is just 25, he is playing in his ninth major golf championship and has already contended for a legacy-defining title multiple times. Last month, he lost the PGA Championship playoff against Justin Thomas and finished second at the 2021 Masters Tournament. He also finished tied for sixth at this year’s Masters and at the 2020 US Open.
The narrow defeats in majors are not demoralized Zalatoris.
“I know I’m going to get one,” he said after this year’s PGA Championship. “It’s just a matter of time.”
But Zalatoris knows the battle against the Country Club’s devilish, decades-old challenges will not be won, only survived.
“The golf course takes so much discipline and patience,” he said Saturday evening. “That was the hardest golf course that I’ve ever played. It’s just so easy to compound mistakes out here. Of course, you can do that in major championships in general, but especially this one. “
Zalatoris paused briefly, nodded his head, then repeated: “Especially this one.”
Matching Zalatoris with a strong back nine was Fitzpatrick, who won the 2013 US Amateur at the Country Club. Fitzpatrick, who was tied for second entering the fourth round of last month’s PGA Championship, bogeyed his first hole Saturday but shot three-under for the rest of his round.
Fitzpatrick, who is 27 and ranked 18th worldwide, also found himself in the sprawling bunker in the front of the 18th green late in the third round. He had a more difficult lie and had to settle for bogey.
With about two hours left in the third round, it appeared that Scheffler, ranked no. 1, was going to take a commanding lead in the final round. Thanks to an eagle from 102 yards on the par-5 eighth hole, Scheffler was 10-under par through 10 holes and six-under par for the tournament.
But Scheffler’s tee shot on the short, downhill par-3 11th hole flew over the green into a hazard. A clunky chip and another dicey pitch that trundled 25 feet downhill past the hole led to a double bogey. Two flubbed chips on the next hole cost Scheffler another stroke. Improbably, that became the first of three consecutive bogeys that saw Scheffler tumble from his perch at the top of the leaderboard.
Only two golfers in the field 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 other 11 LIV series golfers who went home after opening two rounds were combined with a 83-over par, futility highlighted by Phil Mickelson’s 11-over-par finish, though 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 have been committed to the series. Both have been steadily declining in the world rankings and their performances this week will not 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.