Sunday, June 19, 2016

U.S. Open: What you need to know for Sunday's final round

The U.S. Open trophy at Oakmont. (AFP)Happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there! As is always the case, the U.S. Open concludes on Father’s Day, which means Dad has carte blanche to watch golf all the live-long afternoon. The weather delays from Thursday still resonate; the third round didn’t end until Sunday morning, giving the leaders only a few hours of sleep Saturday night and a few hours of rest Sunday morning. Here’s what you need to know heading into Sunday’s final round.

End of heartbreak? Sunday’s leaderboard features the three most notable active members of the Best Player Never To Win A Major club. A victory by Sergio Garcia, Lee Westwood or Dustin Johnson would set off waves of sympathy across the sport; all three of these men have been so very close so many times. Westwood was the last man out before two recent playoffs for the ages: Tiger Woods vs. Rocco Mediate at Torrey Pines in 2008 and Stewart Cink vs. Tom Watson in the Open Championship in 2009, plus he was caught and run down by Phil Mickelson at Augusta in 2010. DJ’s major breakdowns are nightmare fuel, from a Whistling Straits bunker fiasco to a Pebble Beach collapse to last year’s three-putt from 12 feet to lose Chambers Bay. Garcia has had 20 top 10s in the 70 majors he’s played, including four second-place finishes. All three are more than due.

The Shane Lowry story: Lowry spent the third round stepping on the gas while everyone else edged their way around Oakmont. He’s not particularly well known to American audiences, but he’s won acclaim in Europe and his native Ireland, where he won the Irish Open as an amateur in 2009. Much like Masters champion Danny Willett, he’s been building a rep across the pond and arrives in the United States ready and able to capture any major. Lowry’s seven-under score after 54 holes tied Ernie Els in 1994 for the lowest mark at Oakmont; Els, for his part, won that particular tournament.

Andrew Landry’s fairytale rolls on: Look, nobody really expected Andrew Landry to even compete this week; one Vegas sports book reportedly took just one bet on Landry, at 1000-1 odds, for just $5. Even when he tied the score for the lowest first round at Oakmont, nobody really believed in him. So the fact that the 624th-ranked player in the world stuck around until late in the third round, when the bogeys started to pile up, is impressive enough in itself. But tied for second at three-under, in the final pairing at the U.S. Open? Come on. That’s great theater right there.

Jason Day’s time: The Big Three vs. The Field was the talk of every pre-U.S. Open thinkpiece, the idea being that Jason Day, Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth were the equal of every other player teeing off at Oakmont. Not so; McIlroy missed the cut with a late collapse, Spieth was inconsistent every round, and Day began the week with an uncharacteristically bogey-heavy performance. But a four-under third round left Day inside the top 10 heading into the final round, and the eight players ahead of him have a combined total of zero majors.

Keep an eye on: Branden Grace, who was right in the mix for last year’s U.S. Open until blasting a late drive onto the train tracks at Chambers Bay and taking himself out of contention. Also watch out for the nattily-attired, scientifically-minded Bryson DeChambeau, playing in his first major as a professional and sitting neatly inside the top 10. Also watch for American Daniel Summerhays, who posted one of the lowest scores of the week with his second-round 65. He’s played in only three majors in his career, but a strong finish at Oakmont will get him invited to a few more.

Wicked Oakmont: Heavy rains earlier in the week softened up and slowed down Oakmont’s legendarily slick greens, giving players every opportunity to post low scores as the course dried out. Some took advantage; others, like Bubba Watson and Adam Scott, did not. Oakmont will play its toughest on Sunday, and combined with the USGA’s (and the club membership’s) desire to make this golf’s most brutal test, the players are going to look a whole lot like you do out there on the course. Whichever player has the physical dexterity and mental toughness to deal with the madness will be very happy indeed come Sunday evening.

The 63 factor: Oakmont is the home of one of the most remarkable rounds in major championship history, Johnny Miller’s 63 to win the U.S. Open in 1973. Miller had entered the day in 12th place, six strokes behind the leaders, giving hope to 20 players in the exact same position or better this week. Expect to hear plenty about Miller's landmark on Sunday, and deservedly so.

The final round will begin Sunday afternoon on Fox. Should a playoff be necessary, it will run 18 holes and take place on Monday. Enjoy the tournament!

 

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