Day battles into four-way tie at Open
university place, wash. — Jason Day rolled in his birdie putt on the 18th green Saturday, and with the crowd at Chambers Bay roaring for him, he took off his cap and wiped his eyes. No one could quite tell what he needed at that moment — a tissue, a hug or an ambulance. When his hand left his eyes, they suddenly looked glassy, red and stricken. The applause followed him off the green and into the evening, then dissolved into a question: Did that really happen?
Just eight hours earlier, no one knew for certain whether Day, a 27-year-old from Australia, would hit a single shot Saturday in the third round of the U.S. Open. The day before, he had collapsed on his final hole from a bout of vertigo, and when he left the course Friday, dazed and wobbly, the safe money was on Day withdrawing from the tournament.
Instead, he teed it up and produced what has to be one of the most remark-
able rounds in major championship history. On a day of brutal conditions and equally brutal scores, Day went around these hilly links in 68 shots, for a 54-hole total of 4-under-par 206, leaving him in a four-way tie for the lead with Jordan Spieth (71), Dustin Johnson (70) and Branden Grace (70) entering Sunday’s final round.
As if Chambers Bay wasn’t hard enough, with its extra-long holes, wild bounces and bumpy, brown-out greens, the U.S. Golf Association toughened it even more Saturday with some diabolical pin placements and tee locations. This was not a course set up for anyone to make a move, and the scores proved it.
The final eight pairings to play Saturday afternoon — a total of 16 golfers — played the third round in a staggering total of 59 over par, shuffling, shaking up and ultimately decimating the leader board. Of those 16 golfers, only one managed to post an under-par score.
That would be the unlikeliest contestant of them all: Day. In particular, the 31 he shot on the back nine would have been stunning under any circumstances, let alone for a man struggling to see straight and stay on his feet.
“I felt pretty groggy on the front nine, just from the drugs I had in my system,” Day said in a very brief media session after his round. “The vertigo came back a little bit on the 13th tee box, and I just felt nauseous and dazed. I started shaking on the 16th tee box and just tried to get it in.”
Day’s caddie, Colin Swatton, told reporters that Day nearly picked up his ball and quit three different times during his round. The performance will surely draw comparisons with Ken Venturi at the 1964 U.S. Open at Congressional, where he fought off dehydration, and Tiger Woods in 2008 at Torrey Pines on one good leg. But both men won the U.S. Open titles that year. Day will have that chance on Sunday.
The greens at Chambers Bay, splotchy, greenish-brown carpets full of massive humps and tiny bumps — both of which wreak their own unique havoc upon rolling golf balls — remained a point of contention with golfers, a class of athletes not particularly known for their tolerance of unique forms of havoc. One day after Sweden’s Henrik Stenson equated them to “putting on broccoli,” Rory McIlroy noted the lack of green color on them and corrected Stenson: “More like cauliflower.”
Plenty of golfers who started the day within striking distance of the lead came undone Saturday, in some cases in spectacular fashion. Ben Martin began the day two shots off the lead — and birdied the first hole to move to within one— but somehow managed to shoot an 86 that included three double-bogeys, one triple and one quadruple.
There are par-4s at Chambers Bay that are reachable off the tee for the field’s biggest hitters, but the 16th hole, playing at 372 yards on Saturday, is not really one of them. Nonetheless, Day torqued his body and uncorked a drive so massive, he nearly twisted himself into a pretzel at the end of it. As the ball rolled up on the green, before trickling off to the side, the golfers and caddies already there looked at each other as if to say, “No stinking way.”
Though Day failed to get up and down from off the green, he had birdied 15 before that and would go on to birdie 17 and 18, a dazzling stretch made all the more so by Day’s declining physical condition. He would later say the episode of vertigo was worse than the one that forced him to withdraw from the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational last year.
“The goal of mine was just to get through today.”
A day after he collapsed on the course, Jason Day shot 2 under in the third round to move into a four-way tie for first at the U.S. Open.