- There were two main stories at Shinnecock on Saturday—a borderline unplayable golf course and a huge Phil controversy. When all was said and done, four players will share the lead heading into the final round of the U.S. Open: Tony Finau, Daniel Berger, Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka.
SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. — On a dramatic, controversy-filled day at Shinnecock Hills, two players who teed off roughly five hours before the final pairing just kept rising up the leaderboard.
Those two players are Tony Finau and Daniel Berger, who started the day tied for 45th and shot 66 on Saturday while conditions were significantly easier in the morning. They finished three over and then the golf course, according to players and the eye test, crossed the line and became borderline unplayable. Bogeys kept flowing, and by the time play had mercifully ended, three-over was, remarkably, good enough to tie the lead. While the cut was at eight over on Friday, eight over is tied for 16th on Saturday.
Finau and Berger, who will play in the final group on Sunday, are joined at three-over by defending champion Brooks Koepka and 2016 U.S. Open champion Dustin Johnson.
Another guy whose lone major championship is the U.S. Open, 2013 champion Justin Rose, is one back in solo fifth at four-over.
Johnson started the day with a commanding four-shot lead after playing flawlessly over the first two days, but he shot 41 on the front nine and saw his lead disappear by the sixth hole. But the player who won two years ago at Oakmont hung tough, birdied the par-3 11th and somehow still has a piece of the lead despite shooting a seven-over 77. He will be disappointed, however, to have three-putted the 18th hole after leaving his approach shot above the hole, a cardinal sin on a day like today.
There were only three under-par rounds the entire day—Berger's, Finau's and Kiradech Aphibarnrat's—and all came from players with early tee times. Shinnecock's greens lost moisture and became unreceptive, drawing comparisons to the USGA's nightmare the last time the U.S. Open was here in 2004.
"I feel like my game is built for championship golf," Finau, who finished 10th at the Masters after famously twisting his ankle during the par-3 contest, said. "Just because I make a lot of birdies and I hit it with length and the putter can get hot. I think that's a great combination in championship golf."
"They've lost the golf course," Zach Johnson said after the round. "When you have a championship that comes down to pure luck, that's not right."
The golf course—which was the subject of non-stop conversation on the FOX telecast, with varying voices offering their opinion as to whether it had become unfair—wasn't the only controversy that marred Moving Day. Phil Mickelson gave us a moment that will be talked about for years when he decided to putt a moving ball on the 13th green rather than let it roll down a slope.
He was assessed a two-stroke penalty under Rule 14-5, which pertains to when a moving ball is hit. But many thought he should have been disqualified under Rule 1-2, which states that if a player purposefully stops or deflects a ball to give himself an advantage, the player should be disqualified.
"Look, I don't mean any disrespect," Mickelson said after the round. "I know it's a two-shot penalty. At that time, I didn't feel like going back and forth and playing that shot over...I've had multiple times I was thinking about doing that, and this time I finally did."
Mickelson ended up making a 10 on the hole and finished with an 11-over 81, his highest score ever in a U.S. Open. But his score won't be what people remember from this round. It'll be the surreal image of Mickelson jogging to get behind a ball rolling down a hill, having made the decision to wilfully break one of the simplest Rules of Golf: you cannot hit a moving ball.