Rocky days for Champ, Scheffler in battle for low amateur

Scottie Scheffler reacts to a missed putt on the eighth hole during the third round of the U.S. Open golf tournament Saturday, June 17, 2017, at Erin Hills in Erin, Wis. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

ERIN, Wis. (AP) Cameron Champ got off to a rough start in the third round of the U.S. Open. Scottie Scheffler was sailing along until he ran into trouble on No. 18.

The last two amateurs at Erin Hills had quite a day.

Champ used a strong back nine to escape with a 1-over 73 on Saturday, and Scheffler closed with a triple bogey for a 71. While Justin Thomas had a record-breaking 63, and Brian Harman surged to the top of the leaderboard, Champ and Scheffler spent much of the afternoon learning more about playing in one of golf’s most challenging tournaments.

”For the most part, I was pretty happy with the way I played today,” Scheffler said. ”You know I had the hiccup on 18, but that’s what happens on a U.S. Open golf course. You put yourself out of position and lose focus and that’s what it gets you.”

Scheffler and Champ are good friends, having played together during a couple of youth tournaments. Scheffler plays for the University of Texas, and Champ at Texas A&M, but the competition for low amateur is a friendly one for the rising seniors.

Champ was 4 under, two shots ahead of Scheffler.

”Obviously I want to be low am,” Champ said. ”Me and Scottie are great buddies. I’m just going to play my game and at the end of the day whatever the score is it’s going to be. If I come out on top, obviously that would be fabulous. But if Scottie can pull a good round and end up beating me, good for him too.”

Champ was just two shots back of the leaders heading into the weekend. The long hitter – he leads the U.S. Open with a driving average of more than 338 yards – had generated some buzz with a 3-under 69 on Friday, and he got a big ovation when he was announced before the third round.

It took a while for him to settle down.

The 22-year-old Champ had two bogeys and a double bogey in the first seven holes. He righted himself with four birdies early on the back nine, but never could get back to even par for the day.

”The pressure I dealt with this morning, tomorrow, I honestly probably won’t feel at all,” he said. ”I’ll feel some pressure, but I think I just learned how to handle it properly. Could have done it a little sooner … but that’s part of golf. This is my first major ever and I guess it’s just a process that you learn slowly.”

The 20-year-old Scheffler played in the U.S. Open last year at Oakmont and missed the cut. He had the lead going into the last day of the NCAA men’s tournament last month at Rich Harvest Farms, but closed with a 78 and tied for third.

After stumbling to a 2-over 74 on Friday at Erin Hills, he got off to a nice start with four birdies on his front nine in the third round. He was still at 4 under before he closed with an 8 on the par-5 18th.

”I pulled my driver, it ended up in the hay,” he said, ”and I was able to get it back out on the fairway, but I didn’t hit my iron shot the way I wanted to, and I found myself in a really difficult spot around the green. Got it out of the bunker, and then I chipped it on and ended up three-putting.”

Scheffler was working on a bogey-free round before the tough finish. But he quickly brushed it off and turned his attention to Sunday.

Being the low amateur ”would be very special,” Scheffler said. ”It’s only me and Cameron who made the cut so I don’t think I’m really going to focus on how he’s playing tomorrow. I’m just going to do my own thing and see if I could move back up the leaderboard.”

Jay Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap