A bunched leaderboard that made for endless possibilities on moving day at the US Open got even more crowded at the top in the dying stages of Saturday’s third round.
Louis Oosthuizen deposited a 30-foot putt for eagle on the 18th green, shortly after sinking a 30-footer for birdie on the 16th, to vault into a three-way tie for the 54-hole lead at Torrey Pines Golf Course alongside Canada’s Mackenzie Hughes and Russell Henley of the US and setting the stage for high drama on Sunday afternoon.
Hughes, the 30-year-old Canadian who entered the tournament on a string of four missed cuts, leapfrogged up the board after draining a 63-foot eagle putt on the par-five 13th before getting up and down from a bunker on the 18th to card a three-under 68 for the day.
Henley, the 32-year-old from Georgia who has won three titles on the PGA Tour but none since 2017, went off in Saturday’s final group and largely stood up to the pressure of the halfway lead, mixing four birdies with four bogeys for an even-par 71 to stay at five-under and on the pace.
Eighteen players started the day within five strokes of surprise halfway leaders Henley and Richard Bland and it didn’t take long for the household names to make their charges, most notably Rory McIlroy and Bryson DeChambeau.
Ten years to the day he broke his major championship maiden with an eight-stroke win at the 2011 US Open at Congressional, McIlroy opened the back nine with three birdies in four holes and salvaged a bogey after flaying a drive into the yawning barranca that separates the North and South Courses.
After saving par from a greenside bunker on the 16th, McIlroy parred the 17th and then birdied the par-five 18th to match the low round of the tournament with a four-under 67.
“This is the only tournament in the world where you fist pump a bogey. Only losing one [on the 15th] was a big deal, and getting it up-and-down out of the bunker on 16 and making that birdie on 18 just to get that shot back that I lost. Really big.”
He added: “Twenty-eleven felt like a walk in the park compared to this. You know, if I am going to get another US Open trophy, I’m going to have to fight for it a little more than I did 10 years ago.”
McIlroy was joined at three-under by DeChambeau, the 2020 US Open champion who drifted as low as five-over during Friday’s second round but managed to revive his title defense after making birdies Saturday on the first, fifth and 15th holes. He will enter Sunday’s final round two shots off the lead – same as last year at Winged Foot.
That he only managed to hit five of 14 fairways was immaterial: this was DeChambeau’s first bogey-free score in 67 career rounds at majors.
“You’ve got to be really patient out here at these majors,” DeChambeau said. “It’s something that is not easy to do. My first few goes at majors, I was not successful or anywhere near successful, and I feel like I’m starting to understand major championship golf and how to play it and how to go about managing my game, my attitude and just my patience level. If I can continue to do that tomorrow, I think I’ll have a good chance.”
For the unheralded Bland, who captured his first European Tour title in his 476th attempt last month, a storybook tournament finally took a southward turn with six bogeys and no birdies for a 77, dropping all the way back to one-over for the championship and six strokes off the pace.
“That’s the US Open: Some days it’s just going to beat you up all day, and today was my day,” Bland said. “I struggled with my irons all day. I drove the ball pretty good, which is what you need to do. I just couldn’t take advantage from there, and I didn’t really give myself any decent looks for birdies.”
Phil Mickelson, who became the oldest ever major champion at last month’s US PGA Championship, was among the early starters after firing a second-round 69 to make the cut following an opening-round 75. The six-time US Open runner-up needed something special to revive his fading hopes of completing the career grand slam in his hometown, but made only one fairway on the front nine and six of 14 overall en route to a 76.
Jon Rahm carded a 72 to sit at two-under for the week along with Scottie Scheffler (70) and Matthew Wolff (73). Former major champions Dustin Johnson (68) and Collin Morikawa (70) are among the six at one-under.
They will all be chasing the leaders on Sunday with plenty of chances on a course that expects to play even more difficult for the final round.
The 38-year-old Oosthuizen is no stranger to the top of the leaderboard at professional golf’s four bedrock events: he was the 2010 Open champion and can boast runner-up finishes at the other three majors, including at last month’s US PGA Championship.
“It’s a golf course where anything can happen,” Oosthuizen said. “There’s a lot of great players up there that’s got a chance of winning this, and I just need to go out and play as good as I can tomorrow.”