One day after he collapsed to the ground on his final hole from vertigo, the popular Australian shot a 2-under 68 and surged into a four-way tied for the lead with Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth and Branden Grace at 4 under.
UNIVERSITY PLACE — Do you believe in miracles?
That might be overstating what Jason Day did Saturday in the third round of the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay, but it certainly bordered on miraculous.
One day after he collapsed to the ground on his final hole from vertigo and needed assistance just to walk to the scoring area, the popular Australian shot a 2-under 68 and surged into a four-way tied for the lead with Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth and South African Branden Grace at 4 under. Four players were tied for fifth at 1 under.
Day’s round was so unlikely that it took the spotlight away from Johnson and Spieth, who both would have been huge stories on any other day.
Photos from the U.S. Open
It wasn’t even clear Friday night if Day, 27, would be able to play Saturday, and early on he did not look himself. He made bogeys on two of his first four holes and at one point was seven shots behind Spieth. The odds then would have been astronomical on Day being anywhere near the top of the leaderboard.
But there he is after making four birdies on his final seven holes, including a 6-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole to cap the second-best round of the day.
“I didn’t feel that great coming out early,” he said. “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 (finish). Just wanted to (finish).”
That he did, and with two consecutive birdies to end his round.
“I said to him on 18 that was the greatest round of golf I’ve ever watched,” said Day’s caddie, Colin Swatton. “It was a superhuman effort.”
For Johnson, it’s a chance to finish what he couldn’t do at the 2010 PGA Championship. Johnson led by a shot entering the final hole at Whistling Straits (Wis.), but he made a bogey on that last hole, which presumably knocked him into a playoff with Martin Kaymer and Bubba Watson. But Johnson was penalized two shots for grounding his club in the bunker (touching the sand with his club before he swung). He mistakenly thought he was hitting out a waste area and that grounding his club was permitted.
I started shaking on 16 tee box and then just tried to (finish). Just wanted to (finish).” - Jason Day
This is the best chance since then for Johnson, who has won nine times on the PGA Tour, to finally get that elusive first major.
Johnson, 30, surged to the lead Saturday in his characteristic style — with brute force — hitting drives farther than anyone else and taking advantage of shorter approach shots. On the par-4 12th he hit his tee shot 22 feet from the flag and had an easy two-putt for a birdie that gave him a two-shot lead.
But he gave it back with a double bogey on the 13th hole and made pars the rest of the way to shoot 70.
“It’s still a really solid round,” Johnson said. “Even par out there this afternoon is a good score, as you can see. And I thought I played solid, hit a lot of good golf shots.”
Spieth, the 21-year-old superstar who won the Masters in April, seemed ready to take complete control of the championship after birdies on the second and third holes moved him to 7 under and gave him a three-shot lead, the biggest advantage anyone has had at this event. But he made bogeys on the next two holes and struggled with short putts the rest of the way en route to a 71.
“ So I had four three-putts today and that’s going to happen out here,” Spieth said, “and realizing that, is how you move on quickly.”
Grace, 27, is easily the most unknown of the group, but the six-time winner on the European Tour also has a good chance after a 70.
Sunday’s final round is shaping into a classic, and whether Day, second in the 2011 and 2013 U.S. Opens, can summon the energy for another great effort is far from certain.
“Last year I didn’t play the round after I had vertigo, and this one was worse,” said Day, ranked No. 10 in the world. “I think the goal was just to go through today and see how it goes.”