SOUTHAMPTON, NEW YORK | If Sunday at Shinnecock Hills is anything like Saturday, well, that may be more than anyone can handle.
When everything came to rest at sundown Saturday, four players – Daniel Berger, Tony Finau, defending champion Brooks Koepka and 2016 champion Dustin Johnson – shared the lead with 18 holes remaining in this U.S. Open.
They got there in wildly different ways. Berger and Finau shot matching 66s early in the day after starting the third round 11 strokes behind 36-hole leader Johnson. Koepka kept hanging around because he’s tough as bamboo while Johnson did the most uncharacteristic thing – he shot 77.
“I’ve never seen a course change so quickly,” said Justin Rose, just one behind the leaders.
It was a weird day.
Phil Mickelson intentionally putted a moving ball, accepting a two-stroke penalty because he was worried his other options were potentially worse.
Rickie Fowler shot 84.
“With how tough it is, the setup and obviously the conditions, it’s about as tough as it gets,” Fowler said.
With the wind blowing harder than expected and Shinnecock Hills’ greens turning a crusty greenish brown, even USGA boss Mike Davis admitted late in the day that in spots the invisible line had been crossed in terms of fairness. Davis promised a properly watered golf course for Sunday’s final round which has the potential to be captivating.
“It’s a difficult golf course. I expected a difficult week and I guess it’s lived up to those expectations and beyond,” said Henrik Stenson, who made a 5 on five of his last six holes Saturday but still sits just two off the lead.
With all the consternation and frustration, Koepka has the chance to become just the seventh player in history to win back-to-back U.S. Opens, last accomplished by Curtis Strange 29 years ago. He sounds like a man who thinks he’s going to do it.
“There’s nobody more confident,” Koepka said. “I won this thing last year. I feel really good. My game’s in a good spot. I feel like you’ve got to kind of take it from me, to be honest.”