The US Open is set for a tantalizing grandstand final after a fairly literal third round at the Country Club on Saturday.
As high winds at Brookline wreaked havoc on the field, the picture at the top of the standings was wide open, with Will Zalatoris and Matt Fitzpatrick sharing the lead at four under par going into Sunday’s deciding round.
Windy conditions – a topic in every post-round press conference – contributed to a series of messy scorecards, with just 10 of 64 players scoring at least par, and just seven carding below. That means just four strokes separate the leading duo of Nick Hardy in 10th place.
Defending champion Jon Rahm had looked set to end the day on pole position to defend his crown, driving through the penultimate four holes before bogeying over the 18th to leave him one stroke behind the top pair.
Scottie Scheffler’s round Jekyll and Hyde epitomized the day. After taking the lead with a blistering front nine with two birdies and a stunning eagle, the world number one endured a dismal streak of a double bogey and three consecutive bogeys after the corner.
He finished the day two shots off the lead at two under, joined by compatriot Keegan Bradley and qualifier Adam Hadwin, the surprise early favorite in Thursday’s first round.
Co-leader heading into Saturday was Collin Morikawa, who became one of the biggest victims of the Brookline winds. After posting 69 and 66 through the first two rounds, the American fired two double bogeys en route to carding a 77, leaving him six shots clear.
Morikawa’s co-leader at the start of the day, Joel Dahmen, fared better despite falling in the standings, shooting a 74 to end the day three shots off the top alongside Sam Burns and Rory McIlroy.
Ranked 14th in the world, Zalatoris has played with a record 67. The American has come excruciatingly close in recent years, missing out on the Masters by one stroke in 2021 before suffering a playoff loss to Justin Thomas in the championship PGA in May.
Having already labeled the Country Club course as the toughest he’s ever played in any weather, Zalatoris revealed the conditions were so “brutal” he didn’t aim for any of the hole flags.
Now 18 shots away from glory, the 25-year-old thinks he has what it takes to cross the line.
“Coming out of the PGA [Championship] it gave me a lot of conviction and confidence that I belong in this situation,” Zalatoris told reporters.
“There’s a difference between thinking it and then actually being in the situation and believing it…I’ve put myself in this situation many times in my career, and obviously I have to go out and get it tomorrow.”
World No. 18 Fitzpatrick netted a two-under 68 to join Zalatoris at the top. Although the Englishman is also without a major to his name, he has experience of winning at the Country Club, having won the US Amateur at Brookline in 2013.
He has since won seven European Tour victories but admitted his career would feel “incomplete” if he retired without a taste of major glory.
“I would be genuinely disappointed if I didn’t,” Fitzpatrick told reporters.
“I definitely feel like I have a much better chance of winning a major tournament than I’ve ever had in my career.”
Sunday’s deciding round is set to begin at 8:49 a.m. ET, with the pairs’ tee times staggered in ascending order of the standings. Fitzpatrick and Zalatoris will be the last pair to tee off around 2:45 p.m. ET.
Rahm, the first Spaniard to win the US Open with a victory at Torrey Pines in 2021, had the paradoxical feeling of being both “very happy” with his performance and ruining a late meltdown.
Discussing the windy conditions, the 27-year-old said he would “run to the clubhouse” if offered one-by-one to skip the final five holes.
“It’s infuriating in a sense to end this way with the quality that I played those holes with,” Rahm told reporters.
“I have 18 holes and I’m only one stroke behind. This is the important thing.
Scheffler also chose to adopt an upbeat mood despite the effect of the elements on his game. Boasting a spectacular 2022 with a Masters win and three more PGA Tour victories, the 25-year-old showed his class to steady the ship after a terrifying streak, closing with three pars and a birdie.
“That little golf ball just gets thrown around,” Scheffler told reporters, before discussing what a win on Sunday would mean to him.
“If I do, it’s going to be really fun. If I don’t, life will go on,” he said. “I hope it won’t be my last US Open, but you never know. I can’t take anything for granted in this life.
“So I’m going to approach tomorrow like I always do and just go out there and try to do my best and see what happens after that.”