The eerie mist that shrouded the soggy slopes of Congressional Country Club suddenly carried the U.S. Open back to golf’s Scottish roots. All that was missing was the drone of a bagpipe.
Fairways disappeared in the fog and greens materialized almost magically from the out-of-focus haze.
Players squinted hopelessly trying to follow the flight of the ball.
When all hope to finish Saturday’s third round was abandoned with 21 players still on the course, these vivid images emerged from the fog and mist:
Jeff Maggert making birdie after birdie on the front nine to fight his way back into contention, then coming back out in the fog after a 2-hour rain delay to gamely grab the lead at 4 under par.
Tom Lehman playing yet another great third round in the U.S. Open only to nearly see it all washed away after the delay. Lehman then refusing to let that happen, staying one stroke behind Maggert to challenge for the Open title for the third consecutive year.
And Tiger Woods looking like he wanted to add tears to the beads of sweat that dotted his youthful face as he made four bogeys in six holes after the delay to fall eight strokes off the lead.
Seven groups will finish the third round this morning before beginning the final round. Maggert has four holes to play, Lehman five and Woods two.
Colin Montgomerie, rallying from his 76 on Friday, was 2 under with two holes to play in the third round and Tommy Tolles, Hal Sutton and Stewart Cink were 1 under. Tolles had two holes to play, Sutton four and Cink five.
The day was divided into two distinct parts. Most of the round was played under nearly ideal overcast conditions. Then the players returned after the downpour to find Congressional looking more like Scotland than the Potomac River Valley. The quality of play also seemed foreign to professionals.
“I made a good par on the ninth and thought that might jump start me,” Lehman said about going back out after the rain. “But it didn’t. It was definitely grinding out there. I didn’t see a ball land from the time we started until now.”
Lehman made two consecutive bogeys in the five holes he played after the delay, but was still in a great spot going to the final day.
Perhaps Congressional will be kinder to Lehman than Oakland Hills was last year and Shinnecock was in 1995. Both times he had the lead going to the final round of the U.S. Open and both times he came up short - finishing second and third.
Maggert, who has won only once on tour - the 1993 Disney Classic - preserved his hot round with a series of solid, scrambling par saves after the rain delay.
“I was playing pretty well on the front,” Maggert said. “But the rain made it tough to keep a rhythm. It’s going to be a long day tomorrow. It’s going to be a battle of patience.”
Maggert shot his way back into the tournament with a 31 on the front nine, finishing that side with consecutive birdies. He returned after the delay to make solid par saves on Nos. 11 and 12, both times scrambling from off the green.
“It’s always kind of a mind game at this tournament,” Maggert said. “I have four holes left. I want to make sure I’m ready for those four holes and come back and play well. This is what you play for. Hopefully, I can come back tomorrow and take care of business.”
Maggert’s lone bogey for the day came on the 13th hole when he missed a 5-footer.
“Nobody remembers who finished second, third or fourth in a major three years ago,” Maggert said. “So I want to play well tomorrow.”
Lehman knows that feeling well.
He shot a 65 in the third round of the Open last year - the best score of the day by two strokes - and went into the final round with a one-stroke lead but finished second by a stroke to Steve Jones despite a gutsy 71.
In 1995, Lehman shot a 67 on Saturday at Shinnecock and was tied for the lead with Greg Norman going to Sunday. Again Lehman played solidly but not well enough, posting a 74 in very difficult conditions to finish third.
xxxx Leaderboard Clubhouse leaders after the darkness-suspended third round of the 97th U.S. Open. Twenty-one players did not finish. (7,213 yards, par-70.) Jay Haas 73-69-68-210 Billy Andrade 75-67-69-211 Jim Furyk 74-68-69-211 Bob Tway 71-71-70-212 Notables still on the course: Jeff Maggert, 4 under through 14; Tom Lehman, 3 under through 13; Colin Montgomerie, 2 under through 16; Tiger Woods, 4 over through 16.
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