It’s Sunday at the U.S. Open, one of the greatest days of the entire golf calendar. This week has been interesting to say the least, with Chambers Bay playing tough, players expressing their thoughts, and a Sunday morning leaderboard that has four players all tied at 4-under with one round to go, the first time we’ve had that many tied for the lead since 1973. What has to happen on Sunday for each of these players, and some others, to leave Chambers Bay with a smile? Let’s take a look.
Rory McIlroy, 4-over — The biggest comeback in U.S. Open history is seven, by Arnold Palmer at Cherry Hills in 1960, so all Rory needs to do is shoot about 6-under on a golf course that hasn’t seen that score posted all week and hope all the leaders make a lot of bogeys. Seems easy enough!
Cameron Smith, Shane Lowry, 1-under — Two of four players tied at 1-under, Smith and Lowry will have to find a way to shoot their lowest round of the week on Sunday. It’s possible that the leaders back up, but with four tied atop at 4-under, you have to think one will at least shoot around par on Sunday. That means these two will have to, at the least, post a 3-under 67 to get in a playoff, something they haven’t been able to do all week. Both Smith and Lowry have been incredibly consistent, with neither player shooting over par in a round through 54 holes, but it’ll have to be a lower round than they’ve seen so far in this championship to have a chance.
J.B. Holmes, 1-under — It’s simple for Holmes, find a way to overpower Chambers Bay like he did on Friday. Holmes made six birdies and an eagle in his second round on his way to a 4-under 66, and he will need that type of round on Sunday to have a chance at a first major. Holmes has now made two eagles in his three rounds at Chambers Bay, and will need another birdie-heavy round, with a possible eagle sprinkled in, on Sunday to catch all the names ahead of him.
Louis Oosthuizen, 1-under — Umm, continue to play a different golf course than everyone else? After that ugly 77 on Thursday, Oosthuizen has been nails, posting consecutive 66s on a golf course that is barely allowing anyone to break par.
Maybe the interesting part of his matching rounds of 4-under is how different they were. On Friday it was all about the putter, with Oosthuizen needing just 25 putts on these tricky Chambers Bay greens after hitting just nine of the 18 greens. On Saturday, it was the ball-striking that saved him, with the former British Open champion hitting 15 of 18 greens but needing 31 putts. If he combines the two, keeps this incredible confidence up, and gives this championship another 66, he could leave with a second major win and a new modern record at the U.S. Open for highest opening round to eventually win (since World War II, Ben Hogan in ’51 and Jack Fleck in ’55 shot 76s to start before claiming victory).
Branden Grace, 4-under — For Grace, it’s forgetting about the stage he’s on and remembering what he normally does when having the lead in events heading into the final round. On the European Tour, Grace is 6-for-6 when leading events after 54 holes, holding off the likes of Louis Oosthuizen, Ernie Els, and Retief Goosen, to name a few, on his way to those victories. Grace might just be 27, but he’s shown this week that he has the game to hang at majors, and as we’ve seen so many times before, South African golfers and the U.S. Open go together like fine fescue, and, well, fine fescue.
Grace got himself into some trouble with back-to-back bogeys on Saturday on the birdie-friendly par-4 12th and the 13th, but he stayed calm, hit one of the best shots we witnessed all day on the par-3 15th and was able to maintain a solid round of even-par 70.
Everyone knows majors are about maintaining composure, none more than the U.S. Open, and if Grace can handle the moment, playing alongside Spieth on one of the biggest stages in the sport, he might have a chance to crash the party much like Geoff Ogilvy did in 2006. You might not know him well, but there is a reason Grace is ranked 40th in the world, ahead of major winners like Webb Simpson, Graeme McDowell, Charl Schwartzel and Jason Dufner.
Jordan Spieth, 4-under — For Jordan Spieth, Sunday is all about staying patient and understanding that despite only being 21-years-old, he might have the most experience of anyone in this situation. Sure, Johnson has held the lead at the U.S. Open before after 54 holes and Day has finished in the top-four in three of the last four U.S. Opens, but Spieth has been in contention now twice at the Masters and despite a real battle on Saturday at Chambers Bay, continued to understand that at a U.S. Open, the bad breaks happen and you have to wade through them.
Spieth’s final-round scoring average in 2015 is a cool 68.5, shooting two 65s on Sunday in his last three tournaments, so if he can forget those nasty three-putts on Saturday, a part of playing Chambers Bay, and lean on the weapon that continues to put him in contention at big events, it’s his major championship to lose.
Dustin Johnson, 4-under — The bottom line, Dustin has to continue to make the driver the best weapon in his bag and lean on it as best he can. There isn’t a soul on this planet that is driving the ball better than Dustin Johnson, leading the PGA Tour in driving distance by 10 yards (!!!!), and somehow keeping it in play. Johnson didn’t miss a fairway on Saturday, an incredible feat at Chambers Bay considering how fast these fairways run out, and no matter if a 4-handicap is standing over the second shots Johnson is leaving on these holes, they’d at least have some success considering the advantage he continues to give himself off the tee.
Johnson is due for a major win, and if he can continue to get the ball in play off the tee, he could simply overpower the other three players at 4-under and end up the champion at Chambers.
Jason Day, 4-under — For Day, his success this Sunday has nothing to do with his golf game and everything to do with health. What Day was able to accomplish on Saturday was incredible to watch, but I think all the potential for a first major win for Day comes with what he did last night, and Sunday morning, not what happens on the golf course.
Day fired a second-nine 31 in his third round, making four birdies over his last seven holes to find himself in the last group on Sunday at the U.S. Open despite admitting he nearly walked off the golf course a few times in his third round. If he goes on to win, it will be one of those sports performances we talk about for years and years to come, and it will all come down to his health.
My one piece of advice for Day? Allow your caddie, Colin Swatton, to pick up your tees and get your balls out of the hole. It seemed to be a real struggle for Day to bend over and back up throughout the day on Saturday, and why add to the issues with unnecessary movement up and down 36 times on Sunday?
Four leaders, plenty of names chasing with 18 holes to go in this U.S. Open. With these heavy hitters atop the leaderboard, it should make for an epic final round at Chambers Bay.