Phil Mickelson and his moving ball controversy were the story of day three at Shinnecock Hills but the course, and in particular the difficulty of the afternoon conditions, were a close second on one of the more eventful Saturdays at a major championship.
World Number One Dustin Johnson took a four-stroke lead into the third round and despite shooting 7-over retains a share of the lead alongside good friend and defending champion Brooks Koepka and two players who hit off early in the day and shot sizzling 4-under 66’s.
Daniel Berger and Tony Finau both began Saturday 11 shots and 44 places on the leaderboard behind Johnson and both posted two bogey/six birdie rounds to rocket up the standings.
Kiradech Aphibarnrat’s 68 was the only other sub-par round of the day, he, too, teeing off before 11am.
Those who played the afternoon found a golf course where those numbers were completely unrealistic, Koepka’s 2-over 72 the best of those who started the day inside the top 10.
Justin Rose signed for 73 to be 4-over total, one out of the lead and fifth alone, while Henrik Stenson is a shot further back after a 75.
He is sixth alone at 5-over, one better than Aphibarnrat, who leapfrogged 51 players, Jim Furyk and Masters champion Patrick Reed.
New Zealand’s Ryan Fox is the best of the Australasians, a full wrap of their play can be found here.
Several of those who teed up in the afternoon complained the course was unfair, particularly citing some of the pin positions, and USGA Executive Director and CEO Mike Davis admitted as much following the day’s play.
Speaking on FOX Sports after the final pair finished their rounds, Davis said he felt it was a ‘day of two golf courses’.
“We want the US Open to be a tough test,” he said. “But there is no doubt if you look at how this morning played versus this afternoon it was a tale of two golf courses
“And we would admit there were some aspects of this set up that went too far in the sense that well executed shots were not only not rewarded, but in some cases were penalised.
As leading players move into the back nine the USGA have instructed Shinnecock green staff to begin preparing greens for final round pic.twitter.com/BLsVnsAcA0— Denis Pugh (@Dpugh54) June 16, 2018
Plenty of people were unhappy with the course set-up on Saturday
“We don’t want that. When the set up team walked off the course this morning I will tell you we felt really good about where the golf course was and frankly we just missed it with the wind.
“It blew harder than we thought it was going to blow, the greens got fast - the firmness was ok - but the speed of those just was too much for the wind we had.”
He pointed to the controversial 15th hole as the one he felt they got wrong.
“That hole location on 15, you were seeing shots well played and weren’t rewarded,” he said.
“It was a very tough test but probably too tough this afternoon.”
Overnight leader Johnson was less concerned about the pin positions though felt there was inconsistency in the speed of the greens.
Despite his 7-over scoreline, he said he felt he played well in the conditions and liked his position ahead of the final round.
“I’m in a good position,” he said. “I’m tied for the lead going into tomorrow and I don’t feel like I played badly at all today.
“I mean, 7-over usually is a terrible score but with the greens the way they got this afternoon, they were very, very difficult.
“I felt I had seven or eight putts that could easily have gone in the hole but they didn’t and that’s the difference between shooting seven over and even par.
“I felt like the speeds were a little inconsistent. I don’t mind it being fast, I don’t mind it being tough, but I just felt they were a little inconsistent.
“I felt like some were really fast and some were slow so it was tough to get a good read on the speed today.”
Not all his fellow players were as measured in their assessment of the Shinnecock Hills layout, Zach Johnson the first to suggest the course had ‘gotten away from’ the USGA in an interview with Sky Sports.
"We're not on the edge,” he said. “I thought we could be on the edge, but we've surpassed it.
"It's pretty much gone. Specifically the latter part of the day for us. It's pretty much shot, which is unfortunate, because it's — in my opinion — some of the best land and certainly one of the best venues in all of golf, specifically in this country. It's as good as it gets.”
Others took to social media to air their views, Spain’s Rafa Cabrera Bello particularly scathing in his assessment.
Painful finish with a 7 at the last that ruins a pretty decent day. Regardless, it was not a fair test of golf. Greens were unplayable, with unnecessary pin positions. @USGA found a way to make us look like fools on the course.A pity they manage to destroy a beautiful golf course— Rafa Cabrera Bello (@RCabreraBello) June 16, 2018
Ian Poulter, who started the day sharing fourth but ran up a 76, was also blunt.
I’m not sure i could possibly comment without using words which shouldn’t be seen... just like some of those pins. “Disappointing” @USGA @usopengolf why are mistake still being made at this level. Was that fun to watch guys ? I’m only 4 behind & can still win this https://t.co/sbXm36JmAN— Ian Poulter (@IanJamesPoulter) June 17, 2018
Tomorrow’s final round now shapes as a test as much of the USGA’s public image as the 22 golfers within five shots of the lead.
VIC OPEN ANNOUNCES MAJOR PURSE INCREASE:
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