Entering the day with a four-stroke lead and looking in complete control for the opening 36 holes, Saturday felt as though it would be another runaway performance for Dustin Johnson.
That would never materialize as a disastrous front nine for the world's top-ranked player saw him lose his lead almost immediately with a 6-over 41. Johnson would rebound on the back nine, but a bogey on the 18th saw him drop back to a four-way tie for the lead with Brooks Koepka, Daniel Berger, and Tony Finau.
It was a remarkable day at Shinnecock Hills that saw a number of top players complain about the treacherous setup. Berger and Finau both teed off before 11:00 a.m. sitting 11 shots behind Johnson, but fired matching 4-under 66s to fly up the leaderboard. Both were done before the lead groups took to the course, allowing them to relax while carnage ensued on the golf course.
The wind freshened significantly and the greens hardened to the point that Zach Johnson claimed the USGA had "lost the golf course." Only five players shot even-par or better, with Brian Gay's 11:08 a.m. tee time representing the latest start for those five men.
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USGA director Mike Davis apologized for the setup after the round, but that will do little to comfort those players in the afternoon group who had to battle the toughest of the conditions. The 10 players in the final five pairings combined for a scoring average of 76.7.
While the setup is questionable, the leaderboard entering the final day certainly is not - four of the top six players are found in the top 17 of the world rankings, and both Finau and Berger are established names.
One player who stole headlines for the wrong reasons was Phil Mickelson. The five-time major champion began his round with the crowd serenading him for his 48th birthday, but provided a controversial incident on the 13th green.
After his putt for bogey blew past the hole and began to roll down the slope towards the front of the green, Mickelson ran after it and hit it back towards the hole before it stopped, a clear violation.
Many would call for his disqualification, especially as after the round he admitted he was using the rules to his advantage, but the USGA would decide on a two-stroke penalty that saw him card an 11 on the hole. His third-round score of 81 left him ahead of only two players in the field, but you can expect he will be part of the story on Sunday.
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