Saturday could be one of the most intriguing “Moving Days” in U.S. Open history with Collin Morikawa, defending champion Jon Rahm, four-time major champion Rory McIlroy and Masters champion and current world No. 1 Scottie Scheffler all poised to make a run for the championship.
Morikawa is tied at the top with reluctant qualifier Joel Dahmen and just one shot back sit last week’s Canadian Open winner — McIlroy and Rahm. Scottie Scheffler’s 67 in the morning wave Friday put him just two back at the halfway mark at The Country Club.
The fact that Morikawa is tied at the top is eye-opening, considering the fact that his go-to shot, a slight fade, has basically deserted him and he’s been playing what he describes as a “baby draw.” What has apparently made a difference for Morikawa is his switch from the blade-style putter than he won the PGA and the Open championship with, to a heavier mallet style putter.
Morikawa spent last week at his home in Las Vegas trying to find the elusive fade. Will he ditch it and go to the draw full-time? Simple answer — “No. It proves you can play this game with many shots. I remember the first time I played with Tiger, and he hit every shot that called for it. Pin is on the right; you hit a little cut. Pin is on the left; you hit a little draw,” Morikawa said.
Despite winning those two majors, he’s never slept on a lead in a major championship — now he has.
Dahmen was luke-warm about going to the final qualifier but friends and family encouraged him and he shares the 36-hole lead. “I’m playing well, my game’s in good shape and I handled my nerves out there pretty well,” said Dahmen, who sits at no. 130 in the world and has one PGA Tour win.
Rahm and McIlroy are the monster names heading a group of five players at four-under par. Rahm shot 67 on Friday, a shot back of Morikawa’s low round of the day — 66.
Rahm showed up this week and the first thing he said was how much he disliked giving up the trophy from his victory last year at Torrey Pines. Now he can do something to reclaim it.
“I think the leaderboard will have very little to do with my strategy,” Rahm said. “If I’m two back on Sunday when I get to 17 I might hit driver. Even then it will still depend on pin location, wind, and how I am feeling. I can’t really tell you. So I don’t foresee my strategy or what I’ve done so far to change much, unless the wind changes completely. I’m somebody who gets to the tee, sees the pin, feels the wind, then makes a decision. I don’t go out there with a plan for every hole already.”
McIlroy is excited to be squarely in the hunt. “You wanna go up against the best and bring the best out of yourself. I’m excited to be in the mix.”
And it’s quite a mix.
Morikawa (69-66) and Dahmen (67-69) go out in the last pairing Saturday afternoon at 3:45.
Here’s how things stack up behind them:
Four-Under Par 136:
Jon Rahm (66-67); Rory McIlroy (67-69); Hayden Buckley (68-68), Aaron Wise (68-68), Beau Hossler (69-67)
Three-Under Par 137:
Scottie Scheffler (70-67); Nick Hardy (69-68); Brian Harman (69-68); Patrick Rodgers (69-68); Matthew NeSmith (68-69);
Two-Under Par 138:
Sam Burns (71-67); Matt Fitzpatrick (68-79); Adam Hadwin (66-72).
There are another eight players sitting at one-under par including Xander Schauffele and Will Zalatoris.
A total of 23 players are in red numbers but history isn’t in favor of big come-from-behind efforts. Twenty-seven of the last 29 U.S. Open have seen the winner at or within two shots of the lead at the halfway mark.
Bad news from players over par is that there is a lot of quality at the top of the leaderboard and odds are that among Morikawa, Rahm, Scheffler and McIlroy — at least one of them is going to stir things up over the final 36 holes.
The weather turned cooler for Saturday’s third round and the winds will probably be the strongest they’ve been all week.
Who will move on moving day?