Top-ranked Dustin Johnson joined Daniel Berger, Tony Finau and defending champion Brooks Koepka at 3-over-par 213 at Shinnecock Hills in New York. The final round is Sunday.
SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – The only thing that spared Dustin Johnson from another U.S. Open implosion is that everyone around him suffered on a Shinnecock Hills course even the United States Golf Association conceded got out of hand Saturday.
Daniel Berger and Tony Finau were the exceptions, each posting a 4-under-par 66 before Johnson — the world’s top-ranked player — hit his first shot of the third round. Johnson was among those who had to deal with greens that felt like putting on glass.
No one in the final 22 groups broke par.
Johnson, who started the third round with a four-shot lead, barely nudged his 17-foot birdie attempt on the 18th hole and watched it roll — and roll — 8 feet past the hole. He missed the par putt and signed for a 77 to fall into a four-way tie for the lead entering Sunday’s final round.
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“I didn’t feel like I played badly at all,” Johnson said. “Seven over usually is a terrible score, but with the greens the way they got this afternoon, I mean they were very, very difficult. I had seven or eight putts that easily could have gone in the hole that didn’t. And that’s the difference between shooting 7 over and even par.”
Johnson joined Berger, Finau and defending champion Brooks Koepka (72) at 3-over 213, the highest 54-hole score to lead the U.S. Open since the “Massacre at Winged Foot,” another New York course, in 1974.
Johnson has had worse experiences, such as the 82 he shot at Pebble Beach in California when he entered the final round of the 2010 U.S. Open with a three-shot lead. Saturday was more of a slow bleed for him that began with a shot off a sandy path and three putts on the par-3 second hole for his first double bogey of the championship. Johnson’s lead was gone with a three-putt bogey on the par-3 seventh.
It was the first time since 2007 at Oakmont in Pennsylvania no one was under par going into the final day of the U.S. Open. With wind stronger than expected, and a few pin positions that turned the round into carnival golf, it was easy to see why.
On the No. 15 green, some players hit putts near the hole — only to watch them roll all the way off the putting surface. Koepka hit an approach shot near that hole and it moved a few inches to the right, and then a few more feet, and soon the ball was in a bunker.
“You were seeing shots that were well played and not rewarded,” said Mike Davis, chief executive of the USGA. “It was a very tough test, but probably too tough this afternoon.”
Berger and Finau, who started the day 11 shots out of the lead, will play in the final group Sunday.
“I barely made the cut. Going into today, I needed something special to happen to even have an outside chance,” Finau said as Johnson and Scott Piercy were making their way down the first fairway in the final group. “Whether I do or not at the end of today, I’m really happy with where I’m at.”
Right behind Finau and Berger will be the last two U.S. Open champions. Koepka has a chance to become the first player since Curtis Strange in 1989 to win back-to-back U.S. Opens.
Three players broke par, all before the final groups teed off.
“If they’d have shot 4 under this afternoon, it would probably have been the best round of golf anybody’s ever seen,” Koepka said.
Two other major champions — Justin Rose of England and Henrik Stenson of Sweden — were right behind, and both had a share of the lead at one point. Both had three straight bogeys. Rose wound up with a 73 and was one shot back at 4 over. Stenson (74) was at 5 over.
The return to Shinnecock Hills was supposed to make the U.S. Open feel like a traditional test. It felt more like survival.
There were plenty of complaints from players.
“I’m going to find Mike Davis,” Pat Perez said after signing for a 77. “It’s the U.S. Open. It’s supposed to be hard. When is enough enough? It’s not about hard. There’s no other tournament where you see the guys putt off the greens.”