News & Opinion

Today’s Open forecast: Fireworks and a first-timer

ERIN, Wis. – For most of its previous 116 years of competition, the U.S. Open has been a test of endurance and patience, salvaging pars while sprinkling in the occasional birdie for sanity.

After Saturday’s third round, the U.S. Open has turned into a gunfight at Erin Hills, with player after player making birdies and the occasional eagle, as Justin Thomas did on the 637-yard par-5 18th to shoot 63 and briefly hold the lead.  

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© USGA
U.S. Open leader Brian Harman, like the rest of the top contenders, chases his first major title.

© USGA
U.S. Open leader Brian Harman, like the rest of the top contenders, chases his first major title.

The top 13, separated by only five shots and led by Brian Harman at 12-under 204, collectively were 56 under par in Saturday’s third round. Eleven shot in the 60s, and the others were 2-under 70.

It has been the most prolific scoring at a U.S. Open and portends of more fireworks in today’s final round.

Scores: http://www.usopen.com/scoring.html

Tee times: http://www.usopen.com/tee-times.html#!round-4

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The winner likely will emerge from those top 13, mainly someone at T-14 or beyond would have to overtake too many players with hot hands. Yet, it’s not impossible for those beyond the top 13.

Fifty-seven years ago, Arnold Palmer came from seven shots back in the final round of the U.S. Open at Cherry Hills, overtaking 14 players to win. The seven-shot deficit was the largest comeback victory in U.S. Open history. Palmer did it by besting a group that included Sam Snead, Billy Casper, Gary Player, amateur Jack Nicklaus, Ben Hogan and Dow Finsterwald, all eventual major winners.

In 1973, during the final round of the U.S. Open at Oakmont, Johnny Miller shot the first 63 in major-championship golf. He hurdled 12 players, including Palmer, Nicklaus, Tom Weiskopf, Bob Charles and Lee Trevino, all major champions, to win.

Oakmont was soft on Sunday because of overnight rains, but Miller’s 63 was one of only four rounds in the 60s that day.

Lee Janzen stood five shots behind Payne Stewart in 1998 on Sunday at The Olympic Club, but needed to jump only two others, Tom Lehman and Bob Tway. Janzen shot 2-under 68 to win his second U.S. Open. Lehman, Tway and Stewart were all major winners, which is not the case here at Erin Hills as none of the top 13 has won one of golf’s biggest prizes.

The closest major champion, South African Louis Oosthuizen, trails Harman by eight strokes.

The streak of first-time major champions likely will continue. Dating to the 2015 PGA, the major winners are first-timers: Jason Day, Danny Willett, Dustin Johnson, Henrik Stenson, Jimmy Walker and Sergio Garcia. Expect a seventh first-timer to emerge from the crowd at Erin Hills.

Alex Miceli is the founder and publisher of Morning Read. Email: alex@morningread.com; Twitter: @AlexMiceli