Unless something crazy and unexpected happens Sunday at Chambers Bay, the U.S. Open championship of 156 golfers has been reduced to a four-man, duke-it-out, 18-hole battle.
You’ve got Masters champion Jordan Spieth (1-over-par 71), who started hot, sputtered in the middle and finished in stride from the final group Saturday.
Then there is long-hitting Dustin Johnson (70), arguably the best golfer without a major. Like Spieth, he grabbed a two-shot lead on the back nine at 7 under, only to fall back after a double bogey at No. 13.
If Johnson isn’t the best-golfer-not-to-win-a-major, Australia’s Jason Day could be that guy. Given that Day wasn’t even a certainty to play Saturday — he collapsed on the ninth green at the end of his second round because of vertigo — his afternoon-best 68 looks pretty remarkable.
And don’t underestimate South Africa’s Branden Grace (70), who isn’t as flashy as the other three PGA Tour regulars. But he’s won big tournaments on the European Tour, does not appear afraid — and the U.S. Open title sometimes prefers the underdog. And, he’s won every time he’s held or share the lead after 54 holes in a tournament.
All four co-leaders sit at 4-under 206, and are three shots clear of the field.
“All four of us are going to try to do our best and try to finish it up,” Grace said. “I think a good, level round (Sunday) might just do it.”
The longer this championship has gone on, Chambers Bay reveals itself as the fast-and-furious, send-you-into-a-tizzy golf course the USGA wanted all along.
Six of the 75 golfers posted under-par rounds Saturday. And even though Louis Oosthuizen posted a second consecutive 66 for the low round of the day, Day’s 68 might be the most extraordinary feat of the week.
Day spent Friday night under medical observation. After he decided to give it a go in the third round, Day still appeared visibly weak and tentative. He measured his steps, and often held hand rails in between holes.
At the seventh green, Day even told caddie Colin Swatton he was “exhausted.”
“I felt pretty groggy on the front nine, just from the drugs I had in my system,” Day said.
But he perked up just in time to roar back into this championship. He made five back-nine birdies — three coming in his final four holes.
And he got a fortunate bounce off the 18th tee where his shot hit the deck of a hospitality suite, nailed a sliding glass door and kicked into a clear spot in the rough.
Day rallied to make a 10-foot birdie putt to gain a share of the lead.
“I said to him, ‘They are going to make a movie about that round.’ It was pretty impressive,” Swatton said. “It was up there with Tiger Woods playing with a broken leg at the (2008) U.S. Open.”
While not as dramatic, Johnson just keeps showcasing that enormous firepower off the tee. Plus, he has combined it with uncanny accuracy this week, hitting all 14 fairways Saturday — a first.
He made one errant swing with a 7-iron at the 13th hole. He pulled it into the green-side bunker, and three-putted from 40 feet for a double bogey to fall back into a share of the lead.
Johnson has been in a similar position before — at the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach Golf Links. He held a three-shot lead heading into the final round before collapsing early and finishing with an 82.
“I know how to handle myself,” Johnson said. “I know what it takes to get it done. And (Sunday) I just need to go out there and focus one shot at a time — and we’ll see what happens.”
Only one man sleeping on the lead has a major to his name — Spieth.
And if he can tighten up his work on the greens — he has eight three-putts for the week — he should be in good shape to grab a first U.S. Open title, which would give him the first two legs of the grand slam.
“I think I’ll be a little bit less anxious,” Spieth said. “I feel a little more relaxed now … versus when I finished Saturday at Augusta. I was amped and already ready to start the next round.
“Right now I’ll be a little more patient, I think, it not letting my mind wander.”