Oh, and finally, throw in Sam Burns, #9, who’s been roaring along with nothing but the PGA Tour fast lane all year, and the ever-popular hometown heroic story (No. 47, Vermont-born Keegan Bradley, and played his high school golf 30 miles from TCC in Hopkinton) and you have what it takes for a scintillating competition on one of the world’s greatest golf stages.
They also have further validation of the way the folks at the USGA oversaw this national championship because, grant them their right, it was brilliantly consistent.
As? In this competition on Thursday, 25 players underperformed, but only 4 under the lead. After Friday’s second round, 23 players were under par, but 5 under set the pace. After Saturday’s competition, which was played in cool, spring-like weather and had a field average of 73.531, a shot and a half higher than Friday, only nine players are underperforming and you know what?
The lead is just 4 under, shared by Zlatoris and Fitzpatrick, and the fact that Rahm is a shot behind and Bradley and Scheffler are two behind and Burns and McIlroy are just three behind the lead is a 54-hole ranking up On par with a few of the sterling ones in recent years.
Remember the glory of 2010 at Pebble Beach when five of the top six names on the three-round leaderboard were sluggers named Dustin Johnson, Graeme McDowell, Tiger Woods, Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson.
2015 saw things shine at Chambers Bay when Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Branden Grace and Johnson shared the 54-hole lead.
As for 2018 at Shinnecock, the glitter of a four-way tie for the lead between Daniel Berger, Tony Finau, Brooks Koepka and Johnson – with Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson right there – was pretty good theatre.
But what’s on stage at the country club on Sunday needn’t take a backseat to these outstanding dramas. It will feature a mix of firepower, star power, and colorful storylines, and owes a philosophy that the USGA applies beautifully:
Slightly deviate the course setup in rounds 1 and 2, let 15-25 players break par every day, let about 7 or 6 or 5 or 4 lead for 36, cut the field in half and tighten Then things with pin placements and greens speeds and strength.
Do you think it works? It does if you prefer elite players to win in the toughest conditions, as eight of the last 12 US Open winners have been ranked in the top 15 and the lowest-ranked winner was McDowell (37th) in 2010.
However, formulas can only provide the setting. The storylines are what humanizes the competition, and with the group being assembled at the country club, there is much to be welcomed.
OK, none of these guys used to be a caddie at TCC and then crossed the street to win the US Open (like Francis Ouimet did 109 years ago). But Fitzpatrick’s pretty much a neighborhood kid, isn’t he?
True, he wasn’t born in New England – he was born in England – but every nine years he takes up residence in Massachusetts, moves to the Jamaica Plain to stay with Will and Jennifer Fulton, and then strolls through the gates of the Country Club to compete for a National Championship.
Bradley is obviously superior to Fitzpatrick when it comes to hometown status, unless you know another competitor in that space who owns a Massachusetts high school golf championship.
As for McIlroy, who has the hearts of most PGA Tour fans here, there and everywhere for being so vocal in his allegiance during turbulent times, the crowd considers him one of them. Scheffler, who played a four-hole stretch in 5 overs to forfeit the lead, is similarly popular, largely because there’s nothing not to like about a lad who won the Green Jacket in April and almost everything right.
Zulatoris lost a PGA Championship Playoff last month but always seems on the verge of finally getting that first win, while it’s hard to remember the last time Burns didn’t win.
As for Rahm, the choppy double bogey that threw him off the lead on the 18th hole and sent him one back, it’s likely to fuel his emotional side. It’s good. He got emotional a couple of times at Torrey Pines last June and that worked out well, didn’t it?
For the record, there are a few unannounced names (Adam Hadwin is 2 under, tied fourth; Joel Dahmen is tied seventh, 1 under). But so it has been in recent years with Chez Reavie (2019), Brian Harman (2017), Andrew Landry (2016), Erik Compton (2014), Blake Adams (2012) and Gregory Havret (2010).
Adding a long shot is also part of the formula, although it’s the chalk that drives a healthy winning streak.