SOUTHAMPTON, NEW YORK | The happiest man at Shinnecock as the third round dawned might have been Dustin Johnson, the leader by four strokes, or Matt Parziale, the amateur, a fireman from Boston, Mass., who had reached the weekend.
Actually, the happiest man was none of these but Thomas Bjørn, the Europe captain at the forthcoming Ryder Cup in France. Why? Because so many European players were playing so well at the year’s second major championship. There were seven potential members of Bjørn’s team in the top 16 – and that didn’t include Rory McIlroy, a certainty for the biennial match in September.
Seven? Count ‘em.
Tommy Fleetwood, last year’s winner of the Race to Dubai, Justin Rose, the 2013 US Open champion, Henrik Stenson, the 2016 Open champion, and Ian Poulter were all on 141, five strokes behind Johnson. Matthew Fitzpatrick, who was in Europe’s team at Hazeltine two years ago, was on 143, one stroke ahead of Rafa Cabrera Bello, a star of the team in 2016, and Alex Norén, who is a very strong candidate for Bjørn’s team.
It was a timely reminder to those who have commented – gloated even – on the recent success of US players, who currently hold all four major championships and the Players. It was also a reminder that of all the US Open courses, Shinnecock may be the one most like a British links course.
Perhaps Bjørn’s only concern was the surprising form of McIlroy, whose two rounds were a 10-over 80, and a respectable 70. “I think I was blown away by the wind (on Thursday),” McIlroy said on Friday night, a rather surprising admission for a golfer playing on a links course barely a beefy drive away from the sea and brought up on some of the doughty seaside courses of northern Ireland.
The Ryder Cup is nearly four months’ away. Bags of time for McIlroy to find form. Plenty of time for him to prepare for whatever may be thrown at him.