UNIVERSITY PLACE, Wa – Jason Day captured a share of the third-round lead at the 115th U.S. Open and in the process found a place in golf lore and in the hearts of the folks at Chambers Bay Saturday.
The Australian, who had a medical crisis during Friday’s round and nearly quit three times Saturday, shot a 2-under 68 to put himself in a four-way tie for the lead at 4-under-par with Jordan Spieth, Dustin Johnson and Branden Grace.
Day fell down on his final hole Friday, the par-3 ninth, and laid on the ground for more than 10 minutes. He was later diagnosed with “Benign Positional Vertigo.” He has a history of vertigo, dropping out or not competing in tournaments because of it.
It wasn’t certain that he would even play Saturday but he played well, although clearly moving slower and with caution.
Day had a short interview session afterward his round Saturday, saying, “I didn’t feel that great coming out early, and then felt like — I felt pretty groggy on the front nine just from the drugs that I had in my system. Then kind of flushed that out on the back nine.
“But then it kind of came back — the vertigo came back a little bit on the 13th tee box, and then felt nauseous all day. I started shaking on 16 tee box and then just tried to get it in, really. Just wanted to get it in. Last year I didn’t play the round after I had vertigo and this one was worse. I think the goal was just to go through today and see how it goes.”
His playing partner Kevin Kisner told FOX TV “like they say, ‘be scared of sick golfers.’ ”
Day’s caddie, Colin Swatton, told the media that Day nearly quit three times during the round. Yet despite his weariness, he birdied three of his final five holes.
“It was the greatest round I’ve even seen,” Swatton said.
Spieth, with an up-and-down afternoon, missed three short birdie putts down the stretch and shot 1-over-par. Johnson shot a even-par 70 as did South African Grace.
“Even-par is still a good solid round,” Johnson said. “I know what it takes to get it done. (Sunday) I just have to go out there and focus, one shot at a time.”
Spieth, the reigning Masters champion, is trying to slip into some elite company, players who have won the Masters and U.S. Open in the same year. The others were: Tiger Woods (2002), Jack Nicklaus (1972), Arnold Palmer (1960), Ben Hogan (1951 and 1953) and Craig Wood (1941).
“I’m not a veteran at this by any means, but by the time we tee off if I can convince myself, ‘I’m free-rolling. I’ve got one of these,’ ” Spieth said. “The other guys are chasing their first. If we can use that winning formula we had back in April then, mentally, it comes down to can I pull off the shots?”
The second-round co-leaders were Spieth and Patrick Reed at 5-under. On the second hole, Spieth rolled in a 37-footer for birdie. Reed, who took two shots to get out of the trap, double bogeyed the hole for a three-shot swing.
That was the end for Reed among the leaders. He had three double-bogeys by the 10th hole and finished with a 6-over 76 and is in a three-way tie for ninth at 1-over.
The biggest winner of the day was Chambers Bay. It refused to yield. There were only six rounds under par Saturday on the 7,695-yard course. After three rounds, there are just eight players in the red.
The best round of the third round – by far – was turn in by Louis Oosthuizen with a 4-under 66. He in a group of four at 1-under.
“Being 9 over through 20 holes, it looked like I would have been back in Florida,” said Oosthuizen said, who started with a 77 Thursday. He followed with a pair of 66s.
Oosthuizen birdied three of his first six holes then nearly aced the 227-yard, par-3 ninth but missed his birdie attempt.
“I started hitting the ball better and better and better as I went through the second round and hit it really well today,” Oosthuizen said. “So it just shows you to never give up, especially on a golf course like this. If you play well and you shoot 1 or 2-under you can really climb the leaderboard.”
Rory McIlroy and Phil Mickelson, with a combined nine major championships, took themselves out of viable positions to win another one. Both have fallen far behind.
McIlroy, with back-to-back 2-over 72 rounds, was betrayed by his putter, much like many of the players on these challenging putting surfaces. He finished at even-par 70 and is 4-over, nine behind the leaders before they even start.
McIlroy had his chances on the back nine and didn’t capitalize. He had a 6-foot birdie attempt on 10 and missed it. He had a three-putt bogey on 11 then missed another short birdie putt on 12 to stay at 3-over. He missed another short birdie on 14, bogeyed 15 and another short miss on 17.
“I missed seven good chances on the back nine. I feel like I turned a 65 into a 70 today,” McIlroy said. “Whenever you miss a couple, you start get a little tentative, you start to doubt yourself, your start to doubt the greens a little bit. Then it snowballs from there.”
Told that Henrik Stenson said Friday the greens were “like putting on broccoli,” McIlroy responded, “I don’t think they’re as green as broccoli. More like cauliflower. It’s all mental. Some guys embrace them more than others.
“I guess it’s the same for everyone, but to come to a U.S. Open and not have perfect greens is a little disappointing,” he added.
Mickelson started the tournament at 1-under 69, but shot 74 and 77 the past two round, sitting at 10-over in a tie for 67th place.
Mickelson, who sought U.S. Open title to complete his career Grand Slam, never found a spark after bogeying three of his first four holes. He had eight bogeys and just two birdies.
What the first two-plus rounds have statistically demonstrated is that the course is much more receptive in the morning rounds than later in the day when the greens dry out. In the afternoons, the invasive poa annua grasses sprout above the native fescue grasses, creating unpredictable rolls. NOTES: Sergio Garcia, who was critical of the Chambers’ greens in his tweets Friday, was asked at the FOX TV coverage Saturday if he stands by those comments. He didn’t back down. He said the Open “deserves great conditions” and these greens are not great. “It’s like having the NBA championship on a court with holes and slopes and no backboard. It’s not right.” … a huge warehouse fire just north of the course, on the water, created a smoky diversion but it did not carry toward the course.