Rory, Rickie, LACC and more: Five storylines to watch Sunday at the U.S. Open
LOS ANGELES – Three rounds into the U.S. Open and the uncertainty is only slightly less than it was on Thursday with nine players within seven shots of the lead on a golf course that’s promising to take far more than it gives.
With an almost limitless well of potential storylines, here’s five to watch Sunday at Los Angeles Country Club:
IT’S BEEN NINE curious years since Rory McIlroy has hoisted a Grand Slam trophy and even though he’s had his chances to break his major slump, Sunday feels like a fait accompli.
After telling the world that his swing was a work in progress and we shouldn’t expect a quick turnaround two weeks ago at the Memorial, he’s back to his ball-striking best. He’s first in the field in strokes gained: tee to green and strokes gained: off the tee and has hit an extremely un-U.S. Open-like 44 of 54 greens in regulation.
But perhaps the most encouraging sign that the Northern Irishman is ready to break back through the major ceiling is a new-found indifference to the distractions that have dominated the last year.
“It’s been such a long time since I’ve done it [won a major]. I’m going out there to try to execute a game plan, and I feel like over the last three days I’ve executed that game plan really, really well, and I just need to do that for one more day,” he said.
LOS ANGELES COUNTRY Club finally started playing the role of U.S. Open venue late Friday, and as the course continued to become firmer and faster under an unrelenting southern California sun, the test USGA officials had hoped for became a reality.
The scoring average continued to tick up following Thursday’s record assault with Saturday’s average (71.84) more than a half stroke higher than it was on Day 1 and players were bracing for increasingly difficult conditions for the final round.
“The scoring was surprisingly low over the first couple of days, but it doesn’t look or feel like any of the other three major championships,” McIlroy said. “The U.S. Open has definitely got its own identity, and I think that identity was pretty strong from the opening tee shot on Thursday.”
A BOGEY AT the last spoiled an otherwise impressive day for Rickie Fowler but he’ll begin the final round with a share of the lead with Wyndham Clark and this is hardly unknown territory.
Before Fowler slipped into an inexplicable slump the last few years, he was a regular on major championship leaderboards, famously posting four consecutive top-5 finishes in all four Grand Slam stops in 2014. The difference this time is likely all that perspective he’s learned over the last few years of struggle.
“This is the best I’ve felt, let alone in a normal tournament but especially a major, and I would say really ever in my career,” he said.
THE NORTH COURSE’S 15th hole became the shortest in U.S. Open history Saturday at just 81 yards to a front-right pin, but there’s a good chance it’ll become a far more interesting hole for the final round.
According to sources, USGA officials are considering a back-left hole location for the final round, which could create a funnel on the kidney-shaped green for shots to feed to the hole.
The hole has already provided plenty of content this week with Saturday’s tee location creating far more of a challenge than most would have imagined on an 81-yard hole.
“I’m the happiest man alive that I hit that green,” DeChambeau said. “With my wedge game and how fast I can move a golf club, I’m super happy that I was able to control the distance there and get it on the green.”
WE ARE THREE months shy of this year’s Ryder Cup but the interest and lobbying has intensified following last week’s announcement that the PGA Tour has reached a “framework” agreement with the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia, which owns 93 percent of LIV Golf.
Brooks Koepka moved to No. 2 on the U.S. Ryder Cup points list with his victory at last month’s PGA Championship and is likely a lock to qualify for the team and at least two other LIV Golf players are looking to make their own Ryder Cup statements on Sunday.
DeChambeau is tied for ninth following a third-round 68 and Dustin Johnson is alone in sixth place.
“I think [Koepka] is already qualified, he’s already on the team,” DeChambeau said. “If my game continues to improve and I play well in another major and play well in some LIV events I hope [U.S. captain Zach Johnson] considers some of those guys. It’d be nice to consider me.”
The top 6 off the U.S. points list through Aug. 20 automatically qualify for the team and captain Zach Johnson will announce his six picks on Aug. 28. Dustin Johnson is 39th on the U.S. points list followed by DeChambeau at No. 47th.