U.S. Open: How Shinnecock humiliated the best golfers in the world

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. — Dustin Johnson staggered around Shinnecock Hills like a punch-drunk boxer, reeling from one troubled shot to the next to the next. By the time he was done, the No. 1 golfer in the world had put a 77 on his scorecard – the worst third round he’s ever had in a major.

And he’s still tied for the lead. At 3-over par.

That’s how ugly it was here, as the U.S. Open steadily descended into carnage as the day progressed. When Phil Mickelson lost it and turned moving day into moving ball day, you knew things were getting extreme. Then perfectly competent iron shots started rolling off greens, and barely-struck putts ran for days, and golfers wanted to snap their putters with their teeth.

The Open took its traditionally savage setup to an even more perverse level. There is a fine line between humbling the golfers and humiliating them, and Shinnecock may have crossed that line Saturday.

“The course is gone,” groused two-time major winner Zach Johnson.

Dustin Johnson reacts after missing a putt on the 15th green during the third round of the U.S. Open. (AP)
Dustin Johnson reacts after missing a putt on the 15th green during the third round of the U.S. Open. (AP)

Time of disappearance: somewhere in the mid-to-late afternoon. That’s when it all started going to hell, and that’s why the final pairing Sunday will be Daniel Berger and Tony Finau. Two guys who began the day 11 shots behind Johnson.

Yes, 11.

Berger and Finau shot third-round 66s. Not coincidentally, they both teed off before 11 a.m. In fact, the only other round under par was a 68 by Kiradech Aphibarnrat. His tee time was 9:40. Before the course turned to concrete.

“I’ve never seen a course change so quick,” former Open winner Justin Rose said. “… We come off pretty much shell-shocked.”

If this 118th Open is remembered for anything beyond the Mickelson meltdown and subsequent spin job, it might be the jarring changes in weather conditions between morning and afternoon. They have had a major impact every day – from easier to harder Thursday and Saturday, and from harder to easier on Friday.

“When it’s that big an advantage to playing the morning versus the afternoon, I think it takes away from the work that the guys have done the first two days,” said Rickie Fowler.

“The golf course transformed today from hole 1 to hole 18,” said Jim Furyk, another former Open winner. “It was a different course on the back nine and really just became kind of who could survive and get through the day.”

USGA CEO Mike Davis asked for a “mulligan” after Saturday’s round, which didn’t appease at least one golfer.

The USGA had the hoses out after the final pairing most of the evening, watering the greens in an attempt to lessen the scorching and preserve some of the grass. We’ll see what kind of effect that has on Sunday’s round – and where the pins are placed.

“Just be interested to see how things are tweaked tomorrow,” Rose said. “You know, if the USGA hit the accelerator and wants it as tough as it was today or if things are backed off a little. Or if it’s even possible with a dry, windy day.”

The forecast is for dry and sunny. And for most of the week, dry and sunny has been accompanied by considerable wind.

Say this for Johnson: He has played in the absolute worst conditions every round this Open, and he leads the thing. He played in the afternoon wind tunnel Thursday, the spitting morning rain Friday and then the baked-out moonscape late Saturday. He has every excuse in the book – and he’s still part of a four-way lead, along with Berger, Finau and defending Open champion Brooks Koepka.

“I felt like I played pretty well,” Johnson said.

After a 77. That tells you what it was like out there.

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