The US Open has a ‘last man standing’ feel about it we are about to find out who the toughest grinder in the game is.
Dustin Johnson came back to the field on the third day at Shinnecock Hills and instead of a triumphal march into the weekend, the American has to scrap it out with the rest of the players.
Australia’s Marc Leishman made an early run then fell away.
Tony Finau and Daniel Berger started out tied-45th, 11 shots from the lead, both shot 66 and ended up tied in the lead and playing in the final group tomorrow.
Phil Mickelson shot 81 and incurred a two-shot penalty for an extraordinary rules breach, leaving himself exposed to a disqualification on his 48th birthday.
The field compacted, with Johnson, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and Henrik Stenson all having a share of the lead throughout the day.
It left four players level at three-over in the lead with a round to play – Johnson, Finau, Berger and Koepka, the defending champion. Rose is just a shot back at four-over and another European, Henrik Stenson is five-over. A bunch of major champions sit within that group.
Once again, Shinnecock proved to be extremely tough in the afternoon, when the greens firmed up and the wind came, and the USGA’s Mike Davis would admit later that the set-up was too harsh for the conditions. “Frankly, we missed it with the wind,’’ he said.
It was the players with later tee-times who suffered. In the final group, Johnson dropped six shots in the first eight holes to lose the lead before regaining it outright on the back nine, then handing a share of it back on the 18th green where he three-putted.
The 2016 Open champion carded a seven-over par 77. His playing partner, Scott Piercy, fared worse with a 79.
In the second-last group Tommy Fleetwood and Charley Hoffman shot 77 and 78 respectively.
Leishman started out 11th and also copped the brunt of the course. The Victorian was in contention, just three from the lead, by the time he made two early birdies, but a triple bogey seven at the par-four eighth undid him; he limped in with a 78 to be 11-over for the tournament, eight shots from the lead.
Aaron Baddeley, the other Australian who made the cut, is at 13-over par.
Mickelson’s incident occurred on the 13th green, where he faced a downhill putt of eight metres for bogey. Watching the ball trickle past the hole and headed off the green, the veteran literally trotted up to his ball and hit it back toward the cup while it was still in motion.
Afterward, he admitted that he had accepted the penalty by choice.
"I was just going back and forth and I'd gladly take the two shots over continuing that display,’’ he said. "No question it was going to go down into the same spot behind the bunker. You take the two shots and you move on."