124th U.S. Open: 3 Things to Know, Round 3

By Ron Driscoll, USGA

| Jun 14, 2024 | Village of Pinehurst, N.C.

124th U.S. Open: 3 Things to Know, Round 3

Four-time U.S. Open champion Ben Hogan once said that he was happy if he hit two shots per round exactly the way he intended. With that in mind, it makes sense that Hogan and others have also opined that golf is a game of misses – that the player who “misses” the best will prevail.

The greens of Course No. 2 at Pinehurst Resort & Country Club are some of the most challenging in the game, particularly for a player seeking to recover from an errant approach. Some players have taken to drawing a large “X” in their yardage book to denote where not to miss a green, based on the difficulty of the ensuing task.

Since the field hit just over 54 percent of the greens in regulation through Rounds 1 and 2, where best to miss is an important consideration. That being said, the more prudent player will likely be the one holding the U.S. Open Trophy late Sunday afternoon.

Here are 3 Things to Know for Saturday’s Round 3:

‘I miss, I miss, I miss, I make’

The quote above is a famous Seve Ballesteros answer, when he was asked to explain how he four-putted a green during the Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club. The six-time major champion’s succinct analysis came to mind in Round 2, when the morning grouping of world No. 1 Scottie Scheffler, No. 2 Xander Schauffele and No. 3 Rory McIlroy played the 596-yard, par-5 fifth hole.

All three players missed the green – which Golf Digest has called “the scariest” on Course No. 2 – to the left, which left them all in a native sandy area well below the putting surface, though all were less than 20 yards from the flagstick, within 10 feet of each other. Scheffler and McIlroy got there in two, Schauffele in three. It took them a combined 12 strokes to complete the hole from that point, with McIlroy making par and the other two suffering double bogeys.

As TV analyst Gary Koch noted, only McIlroy “took his medicine” and punched his next shot past the hole, assuring that his ensuing shot would be made from the other side of the hole. He went on to make a 9-footer for par. The first efforts of both Schauffele and Scheffler came back toward them after failing to crest the slope between them and the hole. Scheffler ultimately took five strokes to hole out from below the green.

The hole provided a perfect primer in the severity of the putting surfaces, and in minimizing one’s mistakes.

Colorful Array

As the United States marked Flag Day on Friday, the U.S. Open celebrated the international flavor of its leader board. Players who hail from 11 countries are within five strokes of the lead, the most since 2013, when there were also 11 nations represented at the halfway point.

A total of 20 players are at even par or better, with Ludvig Åberg, of Sweden, sitting atop the list at 5-under 135. He is joined by a fellow Swede, Tim Widing (1 under, T-9), as well as nine players from the USA, and in order, individual golfers from Belgium (Thomas Detry), Northern Ireland (McIlroy), France (Matthieu Pavon), Japan (Hideki Matsuyama), the Republic of Korea (Tom Kim), England (Tyrrell Hatton), Canada (Corey Conners), Germany (Stephan Jaeger) and Spain (Sergio Garcia).

This marks the fifth U.S. Open since 2000 with players from at least 10 nations within five strokes of the leader or leaders after 36 holes. Along with the aforementioned 11 in 2013, there have been 10 national flags among that contingent in 2005, 2012 and 2017. On those four previous occasions, an American has won twice (Webb Simpson, 2012; Brooks Koepka, 2017), and an international player has won twice (Michael Campbell, 2005, at Pinehurst; Justin Rose, 2013).

How Far is Too Far Back?

Twenty-six of the last 28 U.S. Open champions were within three strokes of the lead through 36 holes. The two exceptions over that time frame are Webb Simpson in 2012 at The Olympic Club (6 strokes back) and Brooks Koepka in 2018 at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club (5 back).

The last five U.S. Open champions and their leader board standing through Round 2 (note that only one of the five led through 36 holes – Gary Woodland in 2019):

  • Wyndham Clark, 2023, The Los Angeles Country Club, trailed by one (solo 2nd)
  • Matt Fitzpatrick, 2022, The Country Club, trailed by 3 (T-13)
  • Jon Rahm, 2021, Torrey Pines Golf Course, trailed by 2 (T-5)
  • Bryson DeChambeau, 2020, Winged Foot Golf Club, trailed by 1 (solo 2nd)
  • Gary Woodland, 2019, Pebble Beach Golf Links, led by 2

Ron Driscoll is the senior manager of editorial services for the USGA. Email him at rdriscoll@usga.org.