A thrilling Round 3 at Torrey Pines has set the stage for what is sure to be a memorable Sunday. Can the 2021 finish live up to the timeless dramatics of what we saw on this course 13 years ago? Twenty players – seven of them major champions – enter the final round at or within five of the lead. Here are 10 notes to know from Round 3 of the 121st U.S. Open Championship:
1. After holing a 52-foot eagle putt on No. 18, Louis Oosthuizen is tied for the 54-hole lead for the first time in a U.S. Open. A major championship stalwart, this is the ninth time Oosthuizen has been inside the top five of a major championship leader board with one round to play. Since 2010, only three players – Dustin Johnson (13 instances), Brooks Koepka (11) and Jason Day (10) have been there more often. Oosthuizen is trying to become the third player from South Africa to win the U.S. Open and the British Open, joining Ernie Els and Gary Player.
2. Tied with Oosthuizen at 5 under is Mackenzie Hughes, the first-ever Canadian player to hold the 54-hole lead or co-lead in a U.S. Open. To say Hughes is an unexpected primary character in this story is an understatement: he entered the week having missed five consecutive PGA Tour cuts and without a past weekend appearance in this championship. This is the first time Hughes has even been in the top 20 entering the final round of an event since last September. The best-ever U.S. Open finish by a Canadian player belongs to Dave Barr, who finished tied for second place in 1985.
3. Russell Henley, leading a major through three rounds for the first time in his career, rounds out the trio at 5 under. While Henley hasn’t ever been this close to winning a major championship before, his iron play pedigree suggests his presence here should not be that big of a surprise. Since the beginning of last season, Henley is ranked fourth on the PGA Tour in strokes gained approach per round, trailing only Collin Morikawa, Justin Thomas and Will Zalatoris. Henley is one-for-three in his PGA Tour career converting 54-hole leads and co-leads into wins.
4. Ten years to the day from his blowout win at Congressional, Rory McIlroy surged up the board with a 67, tying the low round of the week. There is something to be said for McIlroy following in the major championship footsteps of Tiger Woods. In 2014, the British Open was played at Royal Liverpool for the first time since Woods’ win there in 2006. McIlroy won that week. Later that year, the PGA was held at Valhalla for the first time since Woods’ win there in 2000. McIlroy won that week. I don’t think I need to remind anyone of who won at Torrey Pines in 2008, the last time the U.S. Open was held here.
5. Should McIlroy win, he would become the only player from outside the United States to win the U.S. Open and the PGA Championship multiple times. Nine players in men’s professional golf history have won five or more majors before the age of 33, the last to do it being Woods. While McIlroy has the most PGA Tour wins when trailing entering the final round since 2010, he has not yet done it to win a major. McIlroy was the outright 54-hole leader in all four of his major victories.
6. Bryson DeChambeau is in a familiar position entering Sunday’s final round. In 2020, DeChambeau was 3 under, two strokes off the lead with one round to play. This year? He’s 3 under, two strokes off the lead with one round to play. DeChambeau is just the fourth defending champion in the last 30 years to be in the top five through 54 holes in the U.S. Open. Brooks Koepka was there in both 2018 (won) and 2019 (runner-up), and Retief Goosen did it in 2005 (finished T-11).
7. Three shots back, Scottie Scheffler is riding a scorching-hot putter into the final round. Scheffler leads the field in strokes-gained putting, putts per hole and putts per green in regulation. Should Scheffler win, he would be the first American player to earn his first PGA Tour win in the U.S. Open since Jerry Pate in 1976. Scheffler is also trying to become the fourth player to win the U.S. Junior Amateur and the U.S. Open, joining Johnny Miller, Tiger Woods and Jordan Spieth.
8. Saturday was the fourth time Jon Rahm has entered the third round of a major championship inside the top 10. After a disappointing 72, Rahm has now failed to record a round better than 71 in any of those third rounds. Still, at just three shots off the lead, Rahm has tied his best career 54-hole position in a major by stroke deficit (he was also three back entering the final round of the 2018 PGA). Not only has no player from Spain ever won a U.S. Open – no player from Spain has ever won any USGA championship.
9. Richard Bland struggled in Round 3, carding a 77 – a score 10 strokes higher than his brilliant Round 2 performance. Bland was one of four players in the field in Round 3 to not make a birdie. Had the 48-year-old Englishman held onto his lead, he would have been the oldest player to lead through three rounds at the U.S. Open since Harry Vardon in 1920 (age 50).
10. How many players have a legitimate shot to win on Sunday? History says the list may be shorter than you think. Each of the last seven U.S. Open champions were either first or second entering the final round. Twenty-two consecutive winners – and 58 of the last 60 – were at or within four strokes of the lead through 54 holes. Thirty major winners in a row were tied for sixth place, or better, entering the last round.
Justin Ray is the head of content for Twenty First Group. He has also worked as a senior researcher at ESPN and Golf Channel.