Eight players spent time atop the leaderboard, all of them getting kicked around — some worse than others — on a U.S. Open course that felt every bit like the toughest test in golf on a cool, windy afternoon at The Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts.
Saturday was a classic U.S. Open, all about survival.
Will Zalatoris and Matt Fitzpatrick kept the damage to a bare minimum, giving them another crack at a major championship that is 18 holes away and feels so much longer.
Zalatoris, who lost in a playoff at the PGA Championship last month at Southern Hills, made only one bogey, a staggering feat on a beast of a Brookline course, for a 3-under 67.
“Felt like I shot a 61,” Zalatoris said. “Whenever I made a mistake, I was able to get away with it or pull off something miraculous.”
Fitzpatrick played in the final group at the PGA Championship. Now the 27-year-old from England is on familiar turf at The Country Club, where he won the U.S. Amateur in 2013. He was equally steady and ran off three birdies over his final five holes for a 68.
Most telling: They didn’t make any double bogeys.
That’s what knocked defending U.S. Open champion Jon Rahm out of the lead on the final hole. The Spaniard thought he had seen it all, including a shot he played backhanded from the base of a tree on the eighth hole, until he took three swipes from sand in two bunkers.
Rahm’s first shot from a fairway bunker hit the lip and nearly rolled into his footprint. His next shot found a plugged lie in a greenside bunker, and two putts later he had a 71 and went from 1 ahead to 1 behind.
Rahm wasn’t upset with his swing on the final hole. If anything, he said it was getting dark and he didn’t notice his ball sitting down in the sand. The USGA sent the final group off at 3:45 p.m. to maximize television exposure. And maybe he tried to take on too much.
Either way, he was in no mood to look anywhere but ahead.
“I have 18 holes, and I’m only 1 shot back,” Rahm said. “That’s the important thing.”
Zalatoris and Fitzpatrick were at 4-under 206, the same score of the 54-hole lead when the U.S. Open was last at The Country Club in 1988.
It’s not like Rahm had full rights to the lead. This Saturday at Brookline was so wild that Rahm was the last of eight players who had at least a share of the lead at some point. Three of them didn’t even finish among the top 10, including two-time major champion Collin Morikawa.
Morikawa, who shared the 36-hole lead with Joel Dahmen, had double bogeys on the seventh and 13th holes and might have had a third after a chunked wedge on No. 4 except that he made a 25-foot putt for bogey. He finished with a 77.
Seven of the top 12 players going into Saturday made at least one double bogey.
Rory McIlroy was not on that list. His was more of a slow bleed, mostly from a putter that wasn’t behaving. He made one birdie in his round of 73.
“It was one of the toughest days on a golf course I’ve had in a long time,” McIlroy said. “I just needed to grind it out, and I did on the back nine. To play that back nine at even par today was a really good effort, I thought. Just kept myself in the tournament. That’s all I was trying to do. Just keep hanging around.”
After a wild third round, Fitzpatrick was listed as a +330 favorite at Caesars Sportsbook, followed by Zalatoris (+350), Rahm (+400), Scottie Scheffler (+550) and McIlroy (+800).
Twenty-three players were under par going into the third round. Only nine remain with 18 holes to play, all of them separated by 3 shots.
That includes a local star — maybe not the Francis Ouimet variety, but Keegan Bradley is big enough in Beantown that he heard his name chanted loudly and proudly as he marched toward the 18th green. A former PGA champion, he called it “probably the highlight of my whole entire life.”
He gave them reason to cheer. Three over through seven holes, Bradley answered with passion and birdies, five of them over his final 11 holes for a 69.
Bradley was 2 shots behind with Adam Hadwin (70) and Scheffler. McIlroy was 3 back along with Sam Burns (71) and Dahmen, who didn’t make a birdie in his round of 74 but stayed in the game because he didn’t have any big blunders.
The average score was 73.5, and only seven players broke par. Denny McCarthy made the cut on the number at 3-over par. He finished his 68 before the leaders even arrived at the course. By the end of the day, he was tied for 11th, 5 shots behind.
The U.S. Open played every bit like one.
“I knew it was going to be hard,” Dahmen said. “I didn’t know it was going to be that hard.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.