Three tied for U.S. Open lead, with Rory McIlroy and Bryson DeChambeau lurking two shots back

Russell Henley managed Saturday on the top of the U.S. Open leaderboard beautifully, even as others surged to meet him there.

Three tied for U.S. Open lead, with Rory McIlroy and Bryson DeChambeau lurking two shots back

SAN DIEGO – The U.S. Open bills itself as the toughest tournament in golf, a pressure-filled cauldron designed to push players to the limit and identify the strongest one. As the new marketing campaign goes, “From many, one.”

But there seemed to be a lid on that cauldron for most of Saturday afternoon at Torrey Pines Golf Course for one of the overnight co-leaders, Russell Henley. While England’s Richard Bland slowly slid down the leaderboard while shooting 77, Henley never reached higher than 6 under or lower than 5 under where he started.

The even-par 71 was a classic, grind-it-out U.S. Open round for the 32-year-old former All-American at the University of Georgia. With 18 holes to go, he is now tied for the lead with Canada’s Mackenzie Hughes and South Africa’s Louis Oosthuizen at 5 under.

“I think I learned I can do it,” Henley said after signing his card. “(It) definitely wasn’t a perfect back nine, but (I) hit a lot of good shots, a lot of good recovery shots. Felt like I was thinking well. Just a little better execution. (I’m) definitely capable of playing better, and I think I can do it, and we’ll see.”

Hughes, whose lone victory on the PGA Tour came at the 2017 RSM Classic, was plodding along through much of the day like Henley, waffling between 1- and 2-under par. Then, from the back of the 13th green, the Canadian did a Tiger Woods impression and holed a 63-foot eagle putt. It vaulted him to 4 under, a shot behind Henley. But a birdie on the par-5 18th pushed Hughes into a tie atop the leaderboard at 5 under.

“I don’t think I’m ever surprised when I play well,” Hughes said. “I wouldn’t say I necessarily expected to be in the last group this week, but I know that my game is good enough to win on the PGA Tour. I’ve done it before. This is a bigger stage, but again, it’s the same. You do the same things.”

Oosthuizen, who finished second to Phil Mickelson at last month’s PGA Championship, was 2 over on the day before he birdied 16 and then drained a 51-foot eagle putt on the 18th to join Hughes and Henley at 5 under.

“I think a year ago that would have been a very boring eagle with a few people going nuts,” Oosthuizen said. “But that was nice to see everyone back, having fans back, and those reactions don’t happen all the time, and it’s great to hear the crowds.”

Meanwhile, a pair of former U.S. Open champions who play the modern power game made their move Saturday.

Rory McIlroy, the 2011 U.S. Open winner at Congressional Country Club, shot 67 to reach 3 under par, two shots behind the leaders.

“It’s definitely the best that I’ve played this week,” Rory said. “I felt like I played well on Thursday, and 70 felt like the worst I could have shot. A little scrappy yesterday, but then today, I hit a lot of fairways starting out, hit a lot of greens, gave myself a lot of birdie chances. (I) didn’t actually make that many, but I just stayed really patient knowing that, if you’re not making bogeys out there, you’re not losing ground.”

Rory McIlroy reacts with caddie Harry Diamond after putting out on the 17th hole during the third round of the 2021 U.S. Open at Torrey. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

McIlroy, in fact, made up quite a bit of round on Henley Saturday, going from six shots behind the overnight co-leader to just two shots behind with 18 more holes to play.

The 2020 U.S. Open winner, Bryson DeChambeau, shot 68 to join McIlroy at 3 under.

“I’ve always thought that in order to win big, big tournaments you’ve got to be able to hit it dead down the middle of the fairway, make a lot of great swings into the middle of greens and make putts,” DeChambeau said Saturday. “You can definitely do it that way, but for the way the courses that have been set up recently, there is a way to win others. Hitting it as far as you can, sometimes hitting in the fairway, sometimes not, and hopefully get lucky lies out of it and you can get clear shots to the green. If you can miss it in the right spots, you can contend in major championships doing that. Depending on the course.”

Three more power players will start Sunday’s round at 2 under. Scottie Scheffler (70), Jon Rahm (72) and Mathew Wolff (73) all still have a realistic chance to win their first major championship.

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U.S. Open: Bryson DeChambeau proves that bomb-and-gouge works coast to coast

Bryson DeChambeau carded his first bogey-free round in a major on Saturday using a strategy that has already won him one U.S. Open.

U.S. Open: Bryson DeChambeau proves that bomb-and-gouge works coast to coast

SAN DIEGO – Bryson DeChambeau isn’t giving up possession of his title as reigning U.S. Open champion without a fight.

The winner of the national championship at New York’s Winged Foot Golf Club in September is proving that his bomb-and-gouge brand of golf works from coast to coast. In his 67th major-championship round, DeChambeau posted his first bogey-free round in a major on Saturday at Torrey Pines’ South Course.

DeChambeau carded a 3-under 68 to climb within two strokes of the lead at the 121st U.S. Open, and vault into a tie for fourth place with Rory McIlroy (67). Only Louis Oosthuizen (70), Russell Henley (71) and Mackenzie Hughes (67), who share the lead at 5-under 208, are ahead of him.

DeChambeau continued to bash driver on nearly every hole – leading the field in driving distance – and it didn’t seem to matter that he hit only five of 14 fairways in the third round as he led the field in greens in regulation.

“Normally, you would say that he has to do better than that tomorrow,” said NBC’s Paul Azinger. “But I’m not sure he does. He’s had a zillion chances for birdie today.”

Fellow NBC commentator John Wood agreed: “I think half of the ones that he missed were tactical. I don’t think he was trying to hit the fairway on those.”

DeChambeau got away with missing the first fairway, hoisting an iron from the right fairway bunker that peppered the flag and he opened with birdie. He got his next birdie after crushing a drive at the 534-yard sixth hole and wedging to 6 feet. One hole later, his erratic driver cost him a stroke as he drove right into a penalty area, but he dropped on a hardpan lie and managed to save par with a brilliant recovery to 6 feet. He had to scramble for par at Nos. 14 and 18, too, and used his length to his advantage in making his last birdie of the day at the par-5 13th.

“That’s what you’ve got to do. You’ve got to be really patient out here at these majors. It’s something that is not easy to do,” he said. “My first few goes at majors, I was not successful or anywhere near successful, and I feel like I’m starting to understand major championship golf and how to play it and how to go about managing my game, my attitude and just my patience level. If I can continue to do that tomorrow, I think I’ll have a good chance.”

That’s what DeChambeau was hoping for after struggling to 73 on Thursday, but he claimed he found something in his swing while he was sleeping and has improved his score each day – shooting 69 and 68, just the third bogey-free round of the championship, since his swing tweak. DeChambeau rallied from two shots back in September to win by six strokes and he said he’ll be ready for whatever challenge the course presents as he seeks to become the eighth player to successfully defend his U.S. Open title and first since Brooks Koepka in 2018.

“If they make it hard and tuck pins, it’s going to be a very difficult championship. It’s going to be hold on to your horses. If they make some of the pins accessible and move the tees up like they did (today), you’re going to have to go at it,” he explained. “You just have to recognize the golf course in the moment, in the conditions at hand because if there’s no wind tomorrow or if there’s a lot of wind, that’s going to change a lot of factors, too. It’s about adapting on the spot.”

On Moving Day at the 121st U.S. Open, DeChambeau was on the mark.

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