In the 13th fairway late Saturday afternoon at the 122nd U.S. Open, defending champion Jon Rahm cried out: “What a freakin’ day!!!”
Rahm pretty much summed it up for all the contenders on a chaotic Saturday at The Country Club where many faded and others held their own — especially Matt Fitzpatrick and Will Zalatoris — who go into the final 18 tied for the lead at a measly four-under par.
Zalatoris, who stood on the doorstep of a PGA championship, only to lose in a playoff to Justin Thomas, shot the day’s best round — a sparkling 67 that put him in the final pairing with Fitzpatrick, who bogeyed the 18th to fall back into a tie with Zalatoris.
After problems at the 13th that resulted in a bogey for Rahm, he birdied three of the next four holes and stood on the 18th tee at five-under par — the new leader. But he pulled his tee shot into a fairway bunker and things got testy from there. Rahm’s second caught the wall of the bunker and came back at him, narrowly missing his footprints. His third was short, in the front bunker and three shots later, he walked off the 54th hole with a double-bogey that dropped him back to three-under and out of the final pairing.
Scottie Scheffler looked like he took command of the championship after he holed his third on the par five eighth for eagle to get to six-under for the championship. But then a horrible run of holes on the second nine derailed him. His tee shot at the short (125-yard) par three 11th sailed long and over the green, into the thick stuff and he’d end up with double-bogey. Things got worse with a run of three straight bogeys that dropped him all the way back to one-under. He stuffed his approach to the 17th for an easy birdie then had more trouble at 18 but saved the day with an 18-foot par putt to get in the house at two-under, just two back of the leaders.
Adam Hadwin (70) was in at two-under along with New England-favorite Keegan Bradley. Bradley shot 69 and had the crowds roaring their approval.
Rory McIlroy ran into all sorts of issues. His putter was off, he missed short birdie putts and and nearly shot himself out of it. But Rory steadied himself and finished the day with 73 and starts the final round at one-under, just three back of the leaders and as The Country Club begins to really show its teeth, no lead is safe on Sunday.
Rory was joined at one-under by Sam Burns and Joel Dahmen.
Surprise of the day was Collin Morikawa coming undone and shooting a seven-over par 77 that seemingly ended his hopes. He fell all the way back to two-over par.
Strong, steady winds and cooler temperatures and extremely firm greens made Zalatoris round look sensational.
“Felt like I shot a 61,” Zalatoris said he round. He hit nine of 14 fairways 12 of 18 greens and 27 putts helped him gain 3.32 strokes on the field.
If Zalatoris can find a way to step into the winner’s circle on Sunday, he’ll be the first player since Arnold Palmer in 1962 to lose a major in a playoff then win the next one.
But don’t be surprised if there’s a playoff late Sunday. Every U.S. Open at The Country Club has finished with a playoff.