BROOKLINE, Mass. – Eight players spent time at the top of the leaderboard, all getting shoved around – some worse than others – on a US Open course that felt by every measure like golf’s toughest test on a chilly, windy afternoon at The Country Club.
Saturday was a classic US Open of survival.
Will Zalatoris and Matt Fitzpatrick kept damage to a bare minimum, giving them another leap into a major championship that’s 18 holes away and feels so much longer.
Zlatoris, who lost in a playoff at the PGA Championship last month in Southern Hills, made just one bogey, an amazing feat on a beast of a Brookline course, for a 3-under 67.
“It felt like I shot a 61,” Zatoris said. “Whenever I made a mistake, I could get away with it or do something wonderful.”
Fitzpatrick played in the final group at the PGA Championship. Now the 27-year-old Englishman is on familiar territory at The Country Club, where he won the 2013 US Amateur. He was just as stable and ran three birdies for a 68 on his last five holes.
Most revealing: They didn’t do double bogeys.
That’s what threw defending US Open champion Jon Rahm off the lead on the last hole. The Spaniard thought he saw everything, including a backhand shot he played off the foot of a tree at the eighth hole until he hit three shots from the sand in two bunkers.
Rahm’s first shot from a fairway bunker hit the lip and almost rolled into his footprint. His next shot found a plugged lie in a green bunker, and two putts later he had a 71, going from 1 ahead to 1.
Rahm wasn’t upset with his swing on the last hole. If anything, he said it was getting dark and he didn’t realize his ball was on the sand. The USGA dispatched the last group at 3:45 p.m. to maximize television exposure. And maybe he was trying to take on too much.
However, he wasn’t in the mood to look anywhere but ahead.
“I’ve got 18 holes and I’m just one shot behind,” he said. “That’s the important thing.”
Zulatoris and Fitzpatrick were up 4-under-206, the same score as the 54-hole lead when the US Open was last played at the country club in 1988.
It’s not like Rahm had full rights to the lead. That Saturday at Brookline was so wild that Rahm became the last of eight players to at some point have at least a stake in the lead. Three of them didn’t even make the top 10, including two-time Major champion Collin Morikawa.
Morikawa, who shared the 36-hole lead with Joel Dahmen, had double bogeys on the seventh and 13th holes and could have had a third after a chunked wedge on #4, except he hit a 25-foot putt for bogey made. He finished with a 77.
Seven of the top 12 players starting Saturday made at least one double bogey.
Rory McIlroy wasn’t on that list. His bleed was more of a slow bleed, mostly from a misbehaving putter. On his round of 73, he made a birdie.
All that, and this US Open was far from decided.
“It was one of the toughest days on a golf course in a long time,” said McIlroy. “I just had to grind it out and I did that on the back nine. Playing that back nine on even par today was a really good effort I thought. I just held my own in the tournament. That’s all I did tried. Just hang around.”
After a wild third round, Fitzpatrick was listed as a +330 favorite on Caesars Sportsbook, followed by Zalatoris (+350), Rahm (+400), Scottie Scheffler (+550) and McIlroy (+800).
23 players entered the third round below average. Only nine holes remain with 18 holes remaining all separated by 3 shots.
That takes a local star – maybe not the Francis Ouimet variety, but Keegan Bradley is big enough in Beantown that he heard his name chanted loud and proud as he marched to the 18th green. As a former PGA champion, he called it “probably the highlight of my entire life.”
He gave them reason to cheer. Three over to seven holes, Bradley responded with passion and birdies, five of them over his last 11 holes for a 69.
He was 2 shots behind Adam Hadwin (70) and Scheffler. McIlroy was 3rd behind along with Sam Burns (71) and Dahmen, who didn’t birdie in his round of 74 but stayed in the game because he didn’t make any big mistakes.
The average score was 73.5 and only seven players broke par. Denny McCarthy made the cut with 3 over par. He finished his 68 before the leaders even got onto the course. At the end of the day he was 11th, 5 strokes down.
The US Open played as one.
“I knew it was going to be difficult,” said Dahmen. “I didn’t know it was going to be that difficult.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.