Shinnecock Hills kicked a little butt Saturday. After two days of deceptive sleep, it finally started to play as the USGA intended. With the wind up and the greens dry and slick, it brought Greg Norman back to earth, blew Jumbo Ozaki off the leaderboard, yielded one great round to Tom Lehman and turned the centennial U.S. Open into a Sunday scramble.
By the time the golf course finished tormenting the world’s best players, Norman and Lehman were tied for the lead, but at 1-under, four strokes over Norman’s pace-setting total after 36 holes. Bob Tway and Phil Mickelson were another shot back at par.
If the wind, which blew from the west at 20 mph, continues to howl, those at 3- and 4-over have a chance as well. It’s quite possible that a score over par will suffice for the first time since Andy North won at Cherry Hills in 1978. Saturday’s average score was 74.22, and the conditions weren’t that unusual. It was just a typical day at Shinnecock.
“Brutal, absolutely brutal,” Norman said with reverence. “It’s one of the few times in my career when I’ve played in such trying and difficult conditions. She played tough.”
Norman, who was in the lead position here in ‘86 before shooting 75 on the final day, came off the course feeling as though his 74 “was a 62.” He made only five greens and nine fairways and had to rely on his chipping and putting to keep him atop the leaderboard. His round had only one birdie and five bogeys, but it was also a test of character that he was able to endure and hold onto the lead.
“I hit a lot of good shots out there, but they finished like a 15-handicapper,” he said. “Part of the game is your chipping and putting. I relied on that today, and it worked. It kept me in position and tied for the lead, gave me chance to win my first U.S. Open.
“Today was a day that really tested your intestinal fortitude: What did you really want?. I can’t remember ever seeing such great players humbled as what I saw out there today. And you know, I actually enjoyed it.”
Even Lehman, who made up seven shots with a miraculous 67, was in awe of Shinnecock’s difficulty.
“You can’t tame this course. You survive it,” said Lehman, whose round was one of only three in the 60s (Ian Woosnam and Gary Hallberg had 69s). Lehman, who says he loves slick conditions, somehow managed to nestle shots in close, and he bogeyed only one hole, the 15th, when he chipped over the green.
“That’s as good as you can possibly play golf today,” said Lehman’s playing partner, Jim McGovern, who surrendered with an 81. “The course was 100 times harder than (Friday).”
Norman, meanwhile, held onto his lead even as he lost strokes to par. A double-bogey on 10 brought him back to the field in a hurry, but two of his best saves came on 11 and 14. He would have regained the exclusive lead had he not slid a 4-foot, downhill birdie putt wide on 18. And he didn’t even want to think about what his round would have been like if not for his work on and around the greens.
Tway and Mickelson, playing together, were both 2-under after 15 holes before they both bogeyed 15 and 16. Their rounds couldn’t have been more different. The rejuvenated Tway played steadily and was one of the few pros who were able to control the ball in the crosswinds. At one point, he made 11 straight pars. Mickelson, meanwhile, had seven bogeys, five birdies and six pars.
“That’s not the kind of round I’m going to try to play tomorrow,” Mickelson said. “But it’s such a grind out there to make a par. You have to play the hole picture-perfect.
“To keep it at bogey is what really kept me in the game.”
Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case for Ozaki.
The proud Japanese star was Saturday’s typical victim. He came in trailing Norman by one but unraveled in a blaze of purple silk. At one point, standing over a putt on the seventh green, he had a chance to tie for the lead but dropped 11 strokes over the final 12 holes, ending with a fat 80.
That leaves him out of today’s hunt, reserved for Norman, Lehman and a handful of others. Lehman, at least, was sure of his strategy.
“You kind of get into the thing, ‘I’m not playing against Nick Price or Greg Norman. I’m playing against the golf course,”’ he said.
Saturday, he was one of the few people who won.
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: Open leaderboard Leaders after the third round: Greg Norman 68-67-74-209 Tom Lehman 70-72-67-209 Bob Tway 69-69-72-210 Phil Mickelson 68-70-72-210
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