BROOKLINE, Mass. – Eight players spent time at the top of the leaderboard, all getting hit – some worse than others – on a US Open course that looked exactly like golf’s toughest test on an after- cool and windy midday at Le Country-Club.
Saturday was a classic US Open, all about survival, a highlight of golf carnage.
Will Zalatoris and Matt Fitzpatrick cut the damage to a bare minimum, giving them another shot at an 18-hole and seemingly much longer Major Championship.
Zalatoris, who lost in the PGA Championship playoffs last month at Southern Hills, made just one bogey, a staggering feat on a beast of a Brookline course, for a 3-under 67.
“I felt like I shot a 61,” Zalatoris said. “Every time I made a mistake, I could get away with it or achieve something miraculous.”
Fitzpatrick played in the PGA Championship Final Group. Now the 27-year-old Englishman is on familiar ground at the Country Club, where he won the US Amateur in 2013. He was equally steady and birdied three times over his last five holes for a 68.
Most telling: they didn’t do any double bogeys.
That’s what caused defending US Open champion Jon Rahm to lose his head on the last hole. The Spaniard thought he had seen it all, including a backhand shot he played from the base of a tree on the eighth hole, until he took three shots from two bunkers.
Rahm’s first shot from a fairway bunker hit the lip and nearly rolled into his footprint. His next shot found a plugged lie in a greenside bunker, and two putts later he had a 71 and went from a front to a back.
Rahm wasn’t upset with his swing on the final hole. On the contrary, he said it was getting dark and he didn’t notice his ball was sitting in the sand. The USGA sent the last group at 3:45 p.m. to maximize television exposure. And maybe he tried to take too much.
Either way, he was in no mood to look anywhere but ahead of him.
“I have 18 holes and I’m only one stroke behind,” he said. “That’s the important thing.”
Zalatoris and Fitzpatrick were 4-under 206, the same score from the 54-hole lead in the last US Open at the Country Club in 1988.
It’s not like Rahm has full rights to the lead role. This Saturday at Brookline was so wild that Rahm was the last of eight players who had at least a share of the lead at some point. Three of them didn’t even finish in 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 big corner on the No. 4, except he made a 25 putt feet for bogey. He finishes with a 77.
Seven of the top 12 players heading into Saturday made at least one double bogey.
Rory McIlroy was not on this list. It was more of a slow bleed, mostly from a putter not behaving. He birdied in his round of 73.
All that, and this US Open was far from over.
“It was one of the toughest days on a golf course I’ve had in a long time,” McIlroy said. “I just needed to get my act together, and I did that on the back nine. Playing that tied back nine today was a pretty good effort, I thought. I just kept myself in the tournament. That’s all I was trying to do. Just keep hanging around.”
After a crazy third round, Fitzpatrick was rated the +330 favorite at Caesars Sportsbook, followed by Zalatoris (+350), Rahm (+400), Scottie Scheffler (+550) and McIlroy (+800).
Twenty-three players were under par heading into the third round. Only nine remain with 18 holes remaining, all separated by three strokes.
That includes a local star – maybe not the Francis Ouimet variety, but Keegan Bradley is big enough in Beantown to hear his name chanted loudly as he walked to the 18th green. A former PGA champion, he called it “probably the highlight of my entire life”.
He gave them reason to rejoice. Three out of seven holes, Bradley responded with passion and birdies, including five on his last 11 holes for a 69.
He was two strokes behind with Adam Hadwin (70th) and Scheffler. McIlroy was three behind with Sam Burns (71) and Dahmen, who didn’t birdie his round of 74 but stayed in the game as he made no big blunders.
The average score was 73.5 and only seven players exceeded par. Denny McCarthy made the cut on the number at 3 over par. He finished his 68 before the leaders even arrived on the course. At the end of the day, he was tied for 11th, five strokes behind.
The US Open played just like one.
“I knew it was going to be tough,” Dahmen said. “I didn’t know it was going to be so hard.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.