PINEHURST, N.C. — In golf circles, the term ‘Moving Day’ sounds a lot sexier and peppier than ‘Holding On For Dear Life Day.’
It doesn’t apply at the U.S. Open.
The Pinehurst No. 2 course played a lot tougher on Saturday, in terms of hole-by-hole scoring, average putts per round and bogeys/double bogeys (percentage-wise). In other words, the greatest regrets entailed the chances the tourney leaders did take.
As such, you didn’t have to scroll very far down the leaderboard to learn the number of golfers who cracked 70 on this day — despite the brilliant sunshine and southern trade winds blowing throughout Pinehurst: two.
Fowler (67) was the first golfer to break 70 on Saturday, a feat achieved sometime after 6 p.m. ET. His stellar outing included five birdies (3rd, 5th, 10th, 13th, 17th holes) and two bogyes (9, 11).
From a stats perspective, Fowler reached nine of the 18 greens in regulation (less than Saturday’s field average), converted on one of two sand saves (above Saturday’s field average) and found just six of 14 fairways (well below the Saturday field average).
And yet, he was a standout performer on a deceptively daunting day of golf.
"(The course was) very tough," said 2011 U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy, who shot a 4-over 74 on Saturday, falling considerably short of his stated goal of matching Friday’s 68. "I’m sure (the USGA) wanted to do that, seeing the scores from the last couple of days. And, yeah, some of the pin positions were a lot trickier than we’ve seen the first two days.
"The greens were a lot firmer, they didn’t get the rain last night that they expected," said McIlroy, who is 3-over for the tournament. "It was a tough test, a real test of patience, a test of if you’re going to miss shots, miss it in the right place."
A key to Fowler’s success: He found solace in the only two holes that offer consistent relief — regardless of how fast the greens became as the hot North Carolina sun baked the course: the par-5s.
Of the top 15 golfers (overall), only Compton, Fowler, Brandt Snedeker and Chris Kirk posted birdies (or better) for both par-5s.
"I’m happy to be under par. It was a grind out there today," said Fowler, according to a NBC Sports interview. "I didn’t hit it as well as I would like to. I drove it a little bit poorly and definitely need some work on that tomorrow with (coach Butch Harmon) … but I hit a lot of great shots into the greens and I got the ball up and down when I needed to."
Compton, who has never won on the PGA Tour (three career top-10 finishes), fared well in just his second career major, carding a 67. He incurred a middling start to the round, going par-par-bogey-par on the first four holes, before catching fire with birdies at 5, 7, 8, 10 and 11.
The legacy highlight came at No. 5, as Compton (3-under for the tourney) was one of eight golfers to score eagle on the, uh, easiest hold of Round 3 — by a long shot.
Compton’s momentum was slowed over the final seven holes, going level par in that span (one birdie, one bogey) to clinch his 67.
Phil Mickelson, a five-time majors winner but never a U.S. Open champion, had preliminary plans of posting a low score on Saturday, perhaps putting a dent into his 13-shot deficit to begin the day.
However, the unkind pin placements and unrelenting, lightning-fast greens simply didn’t allow for it.
"No, you just couldn’t (post a low score). The pins are so close to the edges that if it went sometimes four to six feet on that one side, it was down in a bad spot," said Mickelson. "So, it was a tough. It was a tough day to try to go low."
On the positive side, Mickelson (72 on Saturday) didn’t have a repeat of Friday’s recurring debacle — four-putting three different holes.
"You know, my results aren’t very good, but my game doesn’t feel bad. I’m not discouraged about my game. I’m not worried about it," said Mickelson. "I just … I haven’t quite put it together yet. But I’m excited about the fact that this year my driving, it took a whole different turn."