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BROOKLINE, Mass. – It was T-shirt weather at the 122nd U.S. Open – in the early rounds. That was hard to believe Saturday, when the wind kicked up, changed direction and players and fans bundled up at The Country Club. The forecast for Sunday calls for temperatures in the 50s.
This tournament has turned into a test of survival, and players who specialize in rough weather (Keegan Bradley, Matt Fitzpatrick), major championships (Will Zalatoris), or both (Jon Rahm, Scottie Scheffler) have risen to the top as if according to script.
Fitzpatrick (68) and Zalatoris (67) share the lead at 4 under, one ahead of defending champion Rahm (71), who birdied the 17th hole but got hung up in the bunkers and double-bogeyed 18.
Bradley (69), Adam Hadwin (70) and FedExCup and world No. 1 Scheffler (71) are two back, with Sam Burns (71), Rory McIlroy (73) and Joel Dahmen (74) still in it at three back.
“I seem to have played really well in this sort of weather the last couple of years,” said Bradley, who graduated from Hopkinton High School, some 30 miles west of Brookline. “So, I feel good, and I know tomorrow is going to be tough. It’s going to be a tough day.”
Bradley, who called the warm ovation he got on 18 one of the highlights of his life, might be underselling it a bit. At the 2011 Bryon Nelson, his first TOUR win, weekend rounds featured winds of 25 mph with gusts hitting 40. At THE PLAYERS Championship, in wind and cold, he finished fifth. At the rainy, cold Wells Fargo Championship, he tied for second.
He’s hardly the only one who thrives when the going gets tough. Zalatoris, who is still in search of his first PGA TOUR victory, keeps racking up top-5 finishes in the majors, most recently a playoff loss to Justin Thomas at the PGA Championship last month. Rahm won the 2020 Memorial presented by Workday in brutally difficult conditions and, of course, is the reigning champion of this event.
Then there’s Fitzpatrick, who was always a sentimental pick this week, given that he won the 2013 U.S. Amateur at The Country Club and came back playing exceptionally well. He was in the final group at the PGA (T5) and will be in the last tee time again at the U.S. Open.
“I certainly think it gives me an edge over the others, yeah,” he said of his success at the 2013 U.S. Amateur, when his kid brother, Alex, caddied for him. “I genuinely do believe that.”
The fans seem to remember him, he added, making this week feel like a home game.
Bradley, too, said he has felt the warm embrace of the fans, especially as he came up 18.
“I got to feel what it feels like to play in Fenway,” he said, his eyes misting up. “To play in the Garden, to play in Gillette Stadium. I felt like a Boston player there.”
To get an idea why this leaderboard looks the way it does, it helps to go back to the Wells Fargo Championship in Potomac, Maryland this season. It was a great week to binge-watch something on TV, but in the incessant, cold rain, Bradley and Fitzpatrick each tied for second.
Conditions may be unpredictable, but bad-weather specialists are not.
"I knew it was going to be hard. I didn't
know it was going to be that hard."
– @Joel_Dahmen after a difficult Moving Day @USOpenGolf. pic.twitter.com/vnjpfUlblK
Zalatoris was one of the few who did not cave and throw on at least a pullover Saturday. He was born in San Francisco and referenced the blustery cold there, but still played in shirtsleeves.
“Yeah, there were some big changes,” he said of the wind shift Saturday. “I think I had, like, 312 (for his second shot) into 14 on Thursday, and then I had 258 (to the) front today.
“This place is a beast,” he added. “When I played during the Am in 2013, I said this was the hardest golf course that I had ever played. It’s just so easy to compound mistakes out here, which, of course, you can do that in major championships in general, but especially this one.”
Like Scheffler, who holed out for eagle at the par-5 eighth hole but gave it back with a double-bogey at the short, par-3 11th, Rahm had a wild third round. Up against a tree, he hit one shot with his back to the target, with a one-handed, backhanded swipe. Later, from the fairway bunker on 18, he failed to clear the lip, the ball rolling back down the face and nearly into his footprint.
When it was all over, he told himself the important thing was that he was just a shot back.
“Same thing,” he said, when asked what he needs Sunday. “I just have to do me. That’s it. I can’t control what the guys ahead or behind me are doing. I just have to focus on myself and my game and play my golf, shot by shot. Try to be as committed as possible to each shot, and that’s it.
“The second you get too caught up in what others are doing at a U.S. Open,” he continued, “is when you start making bogeys and double-bogeys in a row.”
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