SAN DIEGO – There were lots of intriguing storylines, but little sizzle, in the first half of the 2021 US Open. Englishman Richard Bland, who qualified for the championship by winning his first round of the European Tour after 477 failed attempts, was tied for the lead with Russell Henley, a PGA Tour veteran whose last tournament victory was four years ago.
The spotlight of the US National Golf Championship was desperate for a familiar face.
In Round Three on Saturday at Torrey Pines Golf Course, the sport’s headliners finally stepped over the edge of the stage, an experienced and decorated crew who could predict a suspenseful and suspenseful end to the final round of Sunday.
Henley finished the round five under par overall and stayed atop the standings and was tied with another lesser-known player, Mackenzie Hughes of Canada. But with a thrilling 52 foot eagle putt on the 18th hole, Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 British Open champion from South Africa, also tied for first. Additionally, four-time major champion Rory McIlroy and defending US Open champion Bryson DeChambeau mustered charges that left them two shots short of three.
Jon Rahm, a big pre-tournament favorite due to his stellar game over the past month, was down under, as were reborn Matthew Wolff, last year’s finalist in the event, and Scottie Scheffler, another youngster. promising player with several recent highs finishes. Not to be overlooked with just four head shots, last year’s Masters champion Dustin Johnson, who shot a 68 on Saturday, and Collin Morikawa, the winner of the 2020 PGA Championship.
“Yeah, it was moving day, I guess,” McIlroy said afterward. “A lot of guys are playing well and fighting. This is what to do in the third round of a major.
McIlroy started slowly on Saturday, but managed four birdies and a bogey on his last nine to finish with a 67, which was six strokes better than his performance in the second round. His late run started when he sent 33 yards on the 12th hole, and ended with a nervous 62-foot downhill two putts at the 18th par-5.
Although McIlroy said the biggest hit of his returning nine was a 4-foot putt on the 15th hole.
“This is the only tournament in the world where you pump a bogey in the fist,” he said. “This putt was huge for the momentum – not to give it two hits.”
The superstitious McIlroy also said he’s going to eat the same chicken sandwich he had at the previous five dinners this week at Torrey Pines.
“It’s really good, and it really works for me,” said McIlroy.
DeChambeau had the most error-free day among the leaders, hitting a 68 without a bogey. DeChambeau’s round could have been better, as he hammered many discs from around 340 yards. But his approach shots did not always find the greens. Still, DeChambeau mastered the long first and sixth holes to birdies on each and took advantage of the 13th hole par 5 for a third birdie.
Most encouraging for DeChambeau was his short and precise game, which he relied on during his victory at the US Open last year. As much DeChambeau is known for the distance he hits the golf ball, his efficient play near the greens and his precise putting have generally been the best predictors of his success.
As has been the case in recent weeks, DeChambeau was also taunted on Saturday by fans who shouted “Come on, Brooks-y” after several of his swings – a nod to the ongoing feud with his colleague. Brooks Koepka.
DeChambeau later said he learned to treat screaming “like a compliment”.
“I kiss her – I smile,” he said.
Koepka, who like DeChambeau started the day evenly, did not improve his position with three birdies and three bogeys for a 71.
Wolff had an erratic day and shot 73 with four bogeys, but after not playing competitively for the past two months, he was happy to have stayed in the championship race.
“I was a hair in there sometimes,” said Wolff, 22. “But I felt like I did pretty well and kept the scores as low as possible to give myself a good chance for tomorrow.”
Henley was an under par on his first nine holes and held a two-stroke lead on the field, an advantage he retained when he unleashed a shot from a bunker on the right side of the green at the 11th hole and took watched his ball bounce once and then disappear into the hole for a birdie.
But it was Henley’s last birdie in a tie 71 round.
Hughes caught up to Henley with a stunning comeback of nine, shooting a four under 32. He will play in the final group on Sunday, paired with Oosthuizen.
“You get goosebumps thinking about it,” Hughes said on Saturday night of the game. “I know I’m going to be nervous tomorrow. But yes, I will try to take advantage of it a lot. You know, this is where you want to be.
Bland, after his superb climb in the second round on Friday, appeared calm throughout his first nine holes on Saturday with a simple swing that consistently set up par and birdie putts. But some of the magic of his putt was missing. Bland had converted 31 of 31 putts within 10 feet in the first two laps. This streak ended on the fifth hole, when he missed an 8-foot putt and bogeyed.
Things got worse, with back-to-back bogeys on the 11th and 12th holes. Bland then left a short 7-foot putt on the 16th hole, and his 20-foot putt on the 17th green slid past the right side of the hole. The 18th par 5 came to a most ignominious end when Bland’s third shot plunged into the pond in front of the green. This led to a third consecutive bugy as he finished with a 77 and was one on the tournament.
“It’s the US Open – some days he’s just going to beat you all day,” Bland said shortly after his round. “And today was my day.”