When Tony Finau and Daniel Berger put pencil to paper and signed for 4-under-par 66s around 3 p.m. EDT on Saturday afternoon, little did they know where they would stand at the end of the third round.
At that time, they stood four strokes behind 36-hole leader and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson.
By sunset, the two had vaulted 44 spots into a four-way tie for first and a spot in Sunday’s final pairing.
Johnson, who did not have a double bogey through 36 holes, made a 5 at the par-3 second en route to a 77. After starting the day with a four-stroke lead, he ended it tied at 3-over 213 with Berger, Finau and defending champion Brooks Koepka, with whom he will be paired on Sunday.
So what happened? Mother Nature threw a curveball at the USGA. While the sun splashed the East End of Long Island the entire day, the predicted light winds turned mightier than expected, making a challenging golf course extremely difficult.
Finau and Berger, both seeking their first major titles, took full advantage of their early tee times and matched the Friday 66s by Koepka and Fleetwood, the best rounds of the championship. Berger birdied Nos. 2, 4 and 6 on the outward nine and added three birdies against two bogeys – both on par-3s – over his final nine. The long-hitting Finau went out in even-par 35, but closed with a 4-under 31, including three consecutive birdies from No. 10.
Koepka, who was sidelined four months due to a wrist injury, returning in May, carded a 2-over 72 to match 2003 champion Jim Furyk for the best score among the final 10 groups. The average score for those 20 players was 76.65, including an 84 from Rickie Fowler, 79 from Scott Piercy (with Johnson in last pairing), 78 by Tommy Fleetwood and 77 by Charley Hoffman.
It all shakes out to a Sunday shootout at Shinnecock with nine players within three strokes of the lead, a group that includes major champions Koepka (3-over 213), Johnson (213), Justin Rose (214), Henrik Stenson (215), Patrick Reed (216) and Furyk (216).
“I love my position,” said Rose, the 2013 U.S. Open champion. “I said here yesterday, if I was four back going into [Sunday], I'd love my position. Just being within the right zip code, it gives you chance.”
After his double-bogey 5 on No. 2, Johnson recorded four more bogeys in five holes to make the turn in 6-over 41. His game settled down over the final nine holes, leaving him in position to become the 22nd player to win multiple U.S. Opens.
Koepka, Rose and Furyk, who was given a special exemption into this year’s championship, also can achieve that feat on Sunday.
“I'm in a good position, in the lead,” said Johnson, who three-putted the 18th green to fall into a share of the lead and out of the final grouping. “Today's round, I didn't feel like I played badly at all. I felt like 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.
“I felt like I played pretty well. A couple of bad shots, but you're going to hit a few bad shots out here. It's just how it goes.”
- The last time nobody in the field was under par through three rounds of a U.S. Open was 2007 at Oakmont (Pa.) Country Club when Aaron Baddeley led at 2 over par.
- None of the players in the last 23 pairings bettered par. Only three players broke par on Saturday, the lowest of the championship. There were four under-par scores in Round 1 and 14 in Round 2.
- Phil Mickelson recorded a 10 on the par-4 13th hole after being assessed a two-stroke penalty for hitting a moving ball (Rule 14-5) on the putting green.
- The par-4 14th hole, which measured 529 yards in Round 3, was the only hole on Saturday that did not yield a birdie. It ranked as the second-toughest at 4.60 to the par-4 15th (4.63).
- Only eight players in the field have not made a double bogey or worse on any hole this week: Patrick Reed, Brian Gay, Jim Furyk, Justin Rose, Charley Hoffman, Xander Schauffele, Louis Oosthuizen and Cameron Wilson.
Daniel Berger on shooting a 4-under 66 to match Tony Finau for the lowest round of the day:
“It was a nice change, considering the first day I didn't make one. Very, very pleased. But I think it had a lot more to do with my putter than it did necessarily my ball-striking because with a lot of these pin positions, you really can't hit it that close to the flagstick. You just have to be really precise with where you're leaving it so you give yourself an actual birdie chance. I did that really well today.”
Tony Finau (66) on how his game suits challenging layouts:
“I feel like my game is built for championship golf because I make a lot of birdies and I hit it with length and the putter can get hot. I think that's a great combination in championship golf. But I think just all around, I've become more of a complete player, and you have to be this week to post anything good.”
Defending champion Brooks Koepka on being tied for the lead:
“I feel really good about the position I'm in. I think to be tied for the lead … is a nice feeling. There's nobody more confident. I won this thing last year. I feel really good. My game's in a good spot. I feel like you got to kind of take [the title] from me, to be honest with you.”
Henrik Stenson (third-round 74) on the challenging course conditions:
“It's a difficult golf course. I expected it to be a difficult week, and I guess it's lived up to those expectations and beyond.”
Phil Mickelson on his breach of Rule 14-5:
“Look, I don't mean disrespect to anybody. I know it's a two-shot penalty. At that time, I just didn't feel like going back and forth and hitting the same shot over. I took the two-shot penalty and moved on. It's my understanding of the rules. I've had multiple times where I've wanted to do that. I just finally did.”
David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at email@example.com.