US Open: McIlroy digs deep to stay in touch as Fitzpatrick and Zalatoris lead

Tricky, swirling wind befells many contenders at Brookline as Séamus Power remains in contention

It’s not supposed to be easy, not in this of all the majors; and, on a day of cold winds which wreaked havoc with the minds and swings of many players in this 122nd edition of the US Open Championship in the Boston suburbs, it was to the credit of Will Zalatoris and Matt Fitzpatrick that they largely remained immune from the elements to share the 54-hole lead, tied on four-under-par 206.

The travails of a tricky, swirling wind befell many; and no one so spectacularly as much as Collin Morikawa, who’d shared the midway lead only to plummet down the leaderboard with a disastrous 77.

But others, too, had difficult times. Jon Rahm, the 121st name engraved on the old trophy when he’d won last year, seemed destined to carry the lead into the final round only to suffer bunker woes late-on and finish with a double-bogey six on the 18th hole for a 71 for 207 to be one shot behind the leading pair.

And another to have a tough old time of it was Rory McIlroy, who shot a 73 for 209 that was rescued to some extent by his putter as he single-putted eight of his last 10 holes to stay in touch.

McIlroy’s swing was out of sync for much of his round yet he dug deep — once again — to ensure that the round didn’t entirely run away from him to remain among the challengers for the title, in tied-seventh.

When McIlroy scribbled his signature on to the scorecard, it was for a 73 that showed he’d numbered just one birdie, four bogeys and 13 pars. It didn’t tell the story of how his putter had been his saviour, at least in keeping him within touching distance heading into Sunday’s final round three shots behind the co-leaders.

“It was one of the toughest days on a golf course I’ve had in a long time. I just needed to grind it out, and I did on the back nine. You know, to play that back nine at even par today was a really good effort, I thought. I just kept myself in the tournament, that’s all I was trying to do, to just keep hanging around,” said McIlroy.

Séamus Power, too, remained in contention, not a million miles at all away from getting into the thick of it.

Power is like a man made for the majors: he signed for a third round 70 for 211, one-over-par to lie in tied-11th through 54 holes, five off the leaders.

Power stuck to his task, outscoring his playing partner and US PGA champion Justin Thomas. And was rewarded for some early par saves with a solid round, highlighted by an eagle on the Par 5 eighth hole.

The eagle was the standout moment of Power’s round, where he hit a 5-iron approach from 219 yards to six feet.

Yet, he felt the real highlight reel was a succession of par saves earlier on. As he put it, “I hit some horrible shots early in the round. On the second, I thought I’d hit a really good pitch but didn’t and made a good putt for a bogey; I’d a really good putt for a par on the next and then a great recovery shot on four and that really kept me in it because I could have let it run away from me. I could have been easily four over after four holes.”

That grit is very much a part of Power’s game, as he has shown in his two previous major appearances at the Masters and perhaps even more pertinently at the US PGA last month where he finished tied-ninth and looked back with hindsight at a number of chances that got away that could have had him even closer to the playoff.

“The thing I learned in Tulsa is that you have got to hang in there ... you realise it is going to be tough for everyone not just you, every shot is going to be huge and no matter what happens so just hang in there. If you can make some birdie, you are going to jump past quite a few people if you do.”

“I really am enjoying it. These are the tournaments you always dream of playing and there’s something in that. You’re always reaching when you’re trying to get to these events and you probably put too much pressure on yourself to get to these places.

When you’re here it’s quite comfortable. It’s almost rewarding just to be here and in a sense once I get over that it’s just another golf tournament on a lovely golf course and it sets of well for me so I don’t think there’s any reason why I shouldn’t play well,” he said.

And, so, the two 54-hole leaders head into the final round in their respective quests for a breakthrough major, just a month after they featured in the US PGA where Zalatoris lost out in a playoff to Thomas and Fitzpatrick finished in fifth.

Of what he had learned from that experience in Tulsa, Fitzpatrick remarked:

“I think I didn’t have my A-game that day, and still just missed the playoff by one or two shots. I can’t even remember now.

I think that was the thing is that I felt like if I played anything like my A-game, B-game, whatever, I would have been in even better contention. For me I think taking that away from it, knowing that I can play better than I did and where I finished definitely brought into this week as well as, obviously, having great experiences here before.”

Collated scores from the US Open

-4 Matthew Fitzpatrick (England) 68 70 68 Will Zalatoris (USA) 69 70 67

-3 Jon Rahm (Spain) 69 67 71

-2 Keegan Bradley (USA) 70 69 69 Adam Hadwin (Canada) 66 72 70 Scottie Scheffler (USA) 70 67 71

-1 Sam Burns (USA) 71 67 71 Joel Dahmen (USA) 67 68 74 Rory McIlroy (Northern Ireland) 67 69 73

Even Nick Hardy (USA) 69 68 73

+1 Hayden Buckley (USA) 68 68 75 Denny McCarthy (USA) 73 70 68 Matthew NeSmith (USA) 68 69 74 Séamus Power (Republic of Ireland) 71 70 70 Aaron Wise (USA) 68 68 75 Gary Woodland (USA) 69 73 69

+2 Brian Harman (USA) 68 69 75 Dustin Johnson (USA) 68 73 71 Min Woo Lee (Australia) 73 70 69 Hideki Matsuyama (Japan) 70 70 72 Collin Morikawa (USA) 69 66 77 Sebastian Munoz (Colombia) 74 69 69 Davis Riley (USA) 72 67 73 Patrick Rodgers (USA) 69 68 75

+3 Patrick Cantlay (USA) 72 71 70 Joohyung Kim (Korea Republic) 72 68 73 David Lingmerth (Sweden) 67 72 74 Thomas Pieters (Belgium) 72 68 73 Adam Schenk (USA) 70 70 73 Jordan Spieth (USA) 72 70 71 Justin Thomas (USA) 69 72 72 Cameron Tringale (USA) 71 71 71

+4 Richard Bland (England) 70 72 72 Beau Hossler (USA) 69 67 78 Mackenzie Hughes (Canada) 72 69 73 Marc Leishman (Australia) 70 71 73 Andrew Putnam (USA) 72 68 74 Xander Schauffele (USA) 70 69 75 Adam Scott (Australia) 69 73 72

+5 Joseph Bramlett (USA) 71 72 72 Brooks Koepka (USA) 73 67 75 Justin Rose (England) 68 73 74 Samuel Stevens (USA) 71 72 72 Travis Vick (USA) 70 69 76

+6 Kyoung-Hoon Lee (Korea Republic) 71 72 73 Guido Migliozzi (Italy) 72 70 74 Patrick Reed (USA) 70 71 75 Todd Sinnott (Australia) 71 71 74

+7 Samuel Bennett (USA) 70 73 74 Matthys Daffue (South Africa) 67 72 78 Christopher Gotterup (USA) 73 69 75 Max Homa (USA) 69 73 75 Joaquin Niemann (Chile) 71 70 76 Callum Tarren (England) 67 72 78

+8 Bryson DeChambeau (USA) 71 71 76 Austin Greaser (USA) 72 70 76 Grayson Murray (USA) 75 67 76

+9 Wil Besseling (Netherlands) 71 71 77 Tyrrell Hatton (England) 72 71 76 Brandon Matthews (USA) 71 69 79 Chris Naegel (USA) 73 69 77 Sebastian Soderberg (Sweden) 71 70 78 10 Harris English (USA) 73 69 78

+12 Stewart Hagestad (USA) 73 70 79

Philip Reid

Philip Reid

Philip Reid is Golf Correspondent of The Irish Times