The leaderboard has cratered. The under-par count went from 23 at sunrise to nine by the end of round three, on a Country Club course that was already tough enough with its blind shots and small greens. The 4-under lead eventually went to two guys whose 67 – for Will Zalatoris – and 68 – for England’s Matt Fitzpatrick – proved remarkable.
“Yeah, that was brutal,” Zalatoris began anyway.
“Yeah, I put on my sunscreen before the ride,” Fitzpatrick said, “and I thought, ‘Oh, it’s going to be nice and hot,’ but instead at the end of the day,” when he seemed like a sky over Sheffield, Fitzpatrick’s home town.
Players had ups and downs and ups and downs. Defending champion Jon Rahm came in at 3 under after a commendable 71, but the kind of No. 18 that shows up in those bad dreams where you just can’t get anywhere. Masters champion Scottie Scheffler, Adam Hadwin and New England guy Keegan Bradley have traveled winding roads up to 2 under. Hip pick Sam Burns, co-second-round leader Joel Dahmen and four-time major champion Rory McIlroy hit 1 under, McIlroy with a cavalcade of putts that signaled chronic downsides. Second-round co-leader Collin Morikawa derailed at a 77 and 2 over and walked away.
“It’s so easy to make mistakes worse,” Zalatoris said after a mistake-filled Saturday.
Scheffler, the immaculate 25-year-old Scheffler, the world No. 1 player, could surely provide some calm.
Wait, maybe he could, a bit.
At the US Open, New England’s Keegan Bradley is living out his sporting dream in Boston
When Scheffler stood 101 yards down the fairway at No 8 and sent a beaut to the green and when he landed and spun back and dove for an eagle he had reached 6 under and a two under lead strokes. He parried two more holes to retain that status.
At No. 14, his ground was down to 1 under, including a double bogey at No. 11, a par 3 where his tee shot went from the left next to the area where lawnmowers dare not venture out, and his recovery from there went up the hill and decided to stop, still shy of the green. When he followed that hole with three straight bogeys, only the cruel couldn’t understand.
In the end, he had rebuilt things at 3 cents.
“There are a lot of trees on this golf course, and there are also gusts,” he said. “So it’s definitely unpredictable. That’s what happens when you have these kind of forest golf courses, and then with the gusts, I mean, that little golf ball just gets thrown around.
The leader for a time at 5 under, second-ranked Rahm rose to No. 18 smoothly. Well, he had that moment on No. 8 where he had to reverse a grounder from the hollow of a tree. And he had this approach on No. 13 which landed 30 yards behind the pin, whereupon he said, “For shouting out loud, man. What a fucking day.
But he had skills, and he had know-how, and then on the very last hole, he had uh. He immediately entered a bunker and drove his way out of that bunker into the short wall of the bunker, which sent him back. Then he stole one out of there, only to find another bunker, where the devilish bullet dove deep.
He made a double-bogey 6 and left at 3 under feeling suboptimal, even though he laughed during a TV interview shortly after.
“It’s a good round of golf,” he said after that, and his 71 made that indisputable. “Obviously a lot of people only think about 18. The truth is, 18 was six good swings. Unfortunately it was six, but it was just good swings. About his line reader – in a town that often loves line readers – he said: “Quite frankly it was a bit dark and it was hard to see. After I hit the shot I realized the ball was a little deeper in the sand than I really saw it in. But I think I maybe – tried to be a little too perfect with the shot.
He tried this with a terrible thought in mind: birdie.
This word became a swear word on a Saturday that urged caution, as evidenced by the wisdom of a pup, Zalatoris. The 25-year-old, who started life and golf in San Francisco, has become a fixture on Sunday TV screens in the majors. He has played eight times and has already placed in the top 10 out of five. He had a strategy on Saturday, and it sounded like the strategy of someone older, like most people.
“It took a lot of discipline today,” said Zalatoris. “I mean, we didn’t aim for a single flag, even with a few corners, just because you really only have a foot or two to manage on those greens in certain situations. Normally the guys here, when they have corners in their hand, they shoot pins regardless of the situation, but it’s just a lot of patience and giving me as much 15 to 25 feet as possible, and obviously, a couple came in today, and it went pretty well.
They came from 52 feet, 16 feet, 19 feet and five feet, those birdies, and they came “a pretty day south of San Francisco, of course,” he said. “Hitting 8 irons from 145 yards whereas for me I hit them from about 175 yards. Just look heavy, put poa annua. That’s how I learned the game, and that’s how it really started for me.
He led a bit before Rahm and before Fitzpatrick joined him. These two guys played the 2013 US Amateur, the only event on this course in golfer’s memory, and Fitzpatrick won the thing at 18, and Zalatoris spent the next few years calling it the most hard that he ever played.
“I definitely think it gives me an edge over the others,” Fitzpatrick, the world No. 18, said of that past win. “I sincerely believe it.”
Amid the gusts of Boston, it must have been nice to believe something.