BROOKLINE, Mass. — Will Zalatoris and Matt Fitzpatrick avoided the carnage and calamity that took down golf’s best Saturday at a U.S. Open that set the tone for a final day of survival.
Zalatoris, who lost in a three-hole playoff at the PGA Championship last month, made only one bogey — a staggering feat on a beast of a Brookline course — for a 3-under 67.
“Felt like I shot a 61,” Zalatoris said. “Whenever I made a mistake I was able to get away with it or pull off something miraculous.”
Fitzpatrick, already a champion at The Country Club with his U.S. Amateur title in 2013, was equally steady and ran off three birdies over his last five holes for a 68. He will be in the final group of a major for the second straight time.
Most telling was they didn’t make any double bogeys.
That’s what knocked defending champion Jon Rahm out of the lead on the final hole. The Spaniard thought he had seen it all — including a shot he played back-handed from the base of a tree on the eighth hole — when he took three swipes from sand in 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 one ahead to one behind.
Rahm wasn’t upset with his swing on the final hole. If anything, he said it was getting dark and he didn’t notice his ball sitting down in the sand. The USGA sent the last group off at 3:45 p.m. to maximize television exposure.
Rahm was looking ahead instead of what he left behind.
“I have 18 holes, and I’m only one shot back,” he said. “That’s the important thing.”
Zalatoris and Fitzpatrick were at 4-under 206, the same score of the 54-hole lead when the U.S. Open was last at The Country Club in 1988.
It’s not like Rahm had full rights to the lead. This Saturday at Brookline was so wild that Rahm was among eight players who had at least a share of the lead at some point. Three of them didn’t even finish among 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 might have had a third after a chunked wedge on No. 4 except that he made a 25-foot putt for bogey. He finished with a 77.
Masters champion Scottie Scheffler was not immune. The world’s No. 1 player looked to be pulling away when he holed a wedge from some 80 yards for eagle on the par-5 eighth.
He was at 6 under and cruising until his wedge to a back pin on the 141-yard 11th hole bounced hard over the green and into deep rough. He took two to the green and two puts later was no longer leading. And it only got worse as three straight bogeys followed and he shot 71.
Seven of the top 12 players going into Saturday made at least one double bogey in strong wind and cool temperatures that made this sweater weather in June.
Rory McIlroy was not on that list. His was more of a slow bleed, mostly from a putter that wasn’t behaving. He made one birdie in his round of 73.
All that, and this U.S. Open was far from settled.
“It was one of the toughest days on a golf course I’ve had in a long time,” McIlroy said. “I just needed to grind it out, and I did on the back nine. To play that back nine at even par today was a really good effort, I thought. Just kept myself in the tournament. That’s all I was trying to do. Just keep hanging around.”
Twenty-three players were under par going into the third round. Only nine remain with 18 holes remaining, all of them separated by three shots.
That includes a local star — maybe not the Francis Ouimet variety, but Keegan Bradley is big enough in Beantown that he heard his name chanted loudly and proudly as he marched up toward the 18th green. A former PGA champion, he called it “probably the highlight of my whole entire life.”
He gave them reason to cheer. Three over through seven holes, Bradley answered with passion and birdies, five of them over his last 11 holes for a 69.
He was two shots behind with Adam Hadwin (70) and Scheffler). McIlroy was three back along with Sam Burns (71) and Dahmen, who didn’t make a birdie in his round of 74 but stayed in the game because he didn’t have any big blunders.
The average score was 73.5 and only seven players broke par. Denny McCarthy made the cut on the number at 3-over par. He finished his 68 before the leaders even arrived at the course. By the end of the day, he was tied for 11th, five shots behind.
The U.S. Open played every bit like one.
“I knew it was going to be hard,” Dahmen said. “I didn’t know it was going to be that hard.”
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