An incredibly poor tee shot at the par-three 3rd by Fleetwood. It’s wide right and a long way short of the putting surface. His chip up isn’t much cop either, and he’s left with a long par rake coming back. He can’t make it. He’s -5. Li pars. Up on 7, Dustin underhits an eagle putt from the fringe but not so badly that he can’t tidy up for birdie. He’s back to -7. Birdie for Tony Finau at 10, which moves him back to -6 after a dropped shot at 9. Birdie for Paul Casey at 5; he’s -6. And Joel Dahmen follows eagle at 10 with bogey. He’s -6.
Koepka saunters up the par-five 4th and makes a birdie without any fuss. He joins the group at -7. Meanwhile up on 18, McIlroy taps in for … bogey. And that followed bogey at 17. Probably just as well the cameras weren’t trained on him. It’s a 71, and his game really is in a strange place right now. It’s not in a complete Jordan Spieth style muddle … but it’s not exactly functioning properly either. He’s level par, with some thinking to do ahead of tomorrow, never mind next month’s US Open.
So having said Li looked a little more settled, he leaves his 25-foot birdie putt five short. But he tidies up, showing no nerves with the par putt. Hard to say whether this is a good sign or bad. Too early. Still just one bogey all week for the young Chinese star, though. Fleetwood also pars. Meanwhile on 4, birdie for Champ, who passes Dustin Johnson going the other way, the big man bogeying 6 after a wild tee shot. And it’s all change at the top, because Joel Dahmen, a man who wrings every drop out of life having had his health problems in the past, drains a big eagle putt across 10 to join the group in second! Imagine if he hadn’t imploded with that triple-bogey on his last hole last night!
-8: Li (2)
-7: Dahmen (10), Scheffler (9), Champ (4), Day (3)
Morikawa slips at 12, having sent his approach wide right. Chipping from thick rough, he couldn’t hold the green, and the bogey takes him back to -5. Meanwhile Scheffler pars the long 9th and hits the turn in 31, while Li appears to have settled any nerves with a couple of calms swipes down 2. He’s on in regulation, which despite his wayward work off the tee, has been his MO this week: yesterday he made 14 out of 18 greens in regulation.
More frustration for Rose, as he sends his tee shot at 3 over the flag, but watches in despair as his 20-footer coming back turns away just before it reaches the cup. Par, which at least steadies the ship.
Rose continues to walk about with a comic-book black cloud over his head, as his second at 2 flies hot through the green. He can’t get up and down from cabbage, and it’s a dismal start for Hampshire’s finest. Pars for Fleetwood and Li at 1. After a cracking drive, Li played the rest of the hole in a slightly shaky fashion, coming up short with both wedge and first putt. No wonder, perhaps: he’s the first player outside the world 100 to hold a 36-hole lead at a major since Ricky Barnes at Bethpage Black in the 2009 Open. Barnes led after 54-holes in that event, too, before having a shocker on the front nine in the final round, ending with a 76 that gifted the prize to Lucas Glover. Everyone wanted a resurgent David Duval to win that day, if memory serves, but I digress.
Up on the green, Jason Day opens with a birdie. He made that hole look extremely easy. He snatches second place to himself … for about 0.0002345 seconds. Dustin Johnson makes it three birdies in four holes at 5 to join him, then Scottie Scheffler chips in on 8. That’s four birdies in five for the 24-year-old from Texas. Meanwhile up on 16, Rory refuses to throw in the towel, despite the hammer blow of those bogeys at 13 and 14. A birdie at 16, and he’s hanging on in there. Just.
-7: Scheffler (8), D Johnson (5), Day (1)
-6: Morikawa (11), Finau (8), Champ (3), Lorenzo-Vera (3), Koepka (2), Berger (1), Fleetwood
It’s all hotting up at the top of the leaderboard, so what better time for the final pair of Li Haotong and Tommy Fleetwood to take the stage? Li – who practised for over six hours (!) after his round yesterday – sends a corker of a drive down the middle. He only hit four of 14 fairways yesterday; perhaps all that time spent out on the range was worth it. Fleetwood meanwhile misses on the left. Everyone’s out, then! This is going to be magnificent.
Rose, still boiling, flays his tee shot at 2 into thick filth down the right. He needs to find his neutral space and cool his boots. Meanwhile another birdie for Morikawa, his fourth of the day, at the should-make 10th. And birdies for DJ at 2 and 4. There’s a rare old gang that’s congregated in second spot.
-6: Morikawa (10), Scheffler (7), Finau (7), D Johnson (4), Champ (1), Lorenzo-Vera (1), Koepka (1), Day, Berger, Fleetwood
A third birdie in four holes for Tony Finau at 7; he’s risen to -6 in a flash. Could this be the breakthrough week for a player who has made the top ten in five of the last seven majors? Back on 1, Koepka’s decent birdie putt from ten feet kinks left and he’ll have to make do with par. Rose can’t get up and down from the fringe, though, and after tapping in for bogey, shoots his caddy a glance. He immediately slips back to -5.
Rose takes an age over his second into 1. After a long discussion he underclubs and isn’t particularly happy with his caddy. Koepka, not a fan of unnecessary faffing, plays a fine wedge in almost immediately. A signal perhaps. You have to like Koepka’s style. All golfers, both professional and amateur, please take note.
Thanks Tom. Great to be back just in time to see the defending champ Brooks Koepka and Justin Rose crash their first tee shots away. Both are more than serviceable. Up on the green, the big-hitting big hope Cameron Champ opens with a birdie. He’s -6.
Morikawa is inches away from moving to six under after his putt dribbles just wide – the 23-year-old us putting together a nice round. Meanwhile, Rory hit a poor shot with his putter on the edge of the green to continue his funk. He ends up with a bogey – his second in a row and he’s two under.
Rory’s response to that bogey is not great. On the 14th, his drive drifts left and he’s off the fairway, although not disastrously so. His next shot has a little too much on it and skips a few feet beyond the green. On the eighth, DeChambeau is now three off the lead after two consecutive birdies – including a nice putt for the final one. Finau has joined him on -5 after a birdie of his own.
Rory McIlroy is struggling a little. He needs to sink a 20-ft putt to save par on the 13th but it’s too much. He actually does well to get away with a bogey and he’s back to two-under. He’ll need to gather himself for the final holes of the day if he wants to remain relevant for the final round tomorrow.
Ooof, Dylan Frittelli sinks a monster putt on the fourth for an eagle – he’d bogied the previous hole, so will welcome that piece of precision. Meanwhile, Rahm on the 10th has a 15-ft putt for birdie … and it just creeps to the left. He three-putts for par to stay four under.
Collin Morikawa birdies the seventh and is now -5. Elsewhere, Tony Finau wafts at a putt – he really should have got the birdie there to move to -5.
Webb Simpson sinks a long birdie to move into contention on the 562-yard 10th. He’s now -3 for the day and -4 overall.
A second birdie of the day for Brendan Steele. This time at 4, and he becomes the first player to rattle the upper echelons of the leaderboard.
-6: Fleetwood, Day, Berger, Koepka, Rose, Lorenzo-Vera
-5: Steele (4), Champ, Casey, Todd
-4: Rahm (8), Morikawa (6), Dahmen (4), Scheffler (1), Griffin, Schauffele, D Johnson, Wiesberger, Noren
And with that, I’m going to hand the reins to Tom Lutz. See you again soon!
In it goes! A strong finish for Tiger, with two birdies in the last three holes, and a 72 doesn’t look quite so bad. Not ideal, of course, and he’s moved the wrong way today, but for a while that was looking a lot worse than +2. A couple of big par scrambles on 14 and 15 saved his card.
Tiger’s been abysmal on the whole today, but he creams one of the shots of the week into 18. An iron from 200 yards pin high to four, maybe five feet. Flat stick, don’t let him down this time. This deserves a birdie.
McIlroy goes straight for the pin at the par-five 10th. He only just gets over the bunker, but the gamble leaves him with an uphill 30-foot eagle chance. It’s fairly straight, but it doesn’t drop. Still, birdie isn’t a bad second prize, and he’s -3, beginning to organise a challenge after a sluggish start. How he’ll already be ruing that triple on 12 yesterday evening.
A third birdie for Jon Rahm, this time at the short par-four 7th. He joins the group at -4 that now includes the aforementioned Dahmen and Steele, but also Scottie Scheffler, who has opened with a birdie, and Collin Morikawa, who has rattled in another long birdie putt at 5.
-6: Fleetwood, Day, Berger, Koepka, Rose, Lorenzo-Vera
-5: Champ, Casey, Todd
-4: Rahm (7), Morikawa (5), Dahmen (3), Steele (3), Scheffler (1), Griffin, Schauffele, D Johnson, Wiesberger, Noren
Speaking of records, 50-year-old Phil Mickelson won’t be breaking the one held by Julius Boros for winning the 1968 PGA as a 48-year-old. Boros will remain the oldest major winner for at least another month. Lefty signs for a level-par 70 today, and remains at +1.
So apparently Tiger hasn’t had a round at the weekend of a major without a birdie since the 1999 Open at Carnoustie. Holes are running out. He drives behind a tree at 16. But then he bundles his second up on to the green, and rolls a straight 25-footer into the cup for his first of the day! A 21-year run goes on. But my, that was close.
Now then! Ian Poulter creams his second into 18 and orders his ball to stop. It complies, and he tidies up for birdie. That’s his third of the back nine, and he comes home in 32 strokes. That’s a round of 66, and at -3 … depending on what the leaders later achieve, and if the wind picks up … he’s not out of this.
It’s Webb Simpson’s 35th birthday today. He nearly celebrates by holing out from sand for eagle at 7, but a birdie that takes him to -3 will suffice. The North Carolinian is entitled to fancy his chances this week, mainly because of his resurgent form, but partly because his greatest success, the 2012 US Open, occurred just across Lake Merced at Olympic Club. You know how these stories sometimes pan out. Harding Park was used as a car park when Olympic hosted the 1987 US Open, incidentally. Times change.
That double bogey has truly taken the wind out of poor Grillo’s sail. It wasn’t so long ago he nearly made a fifth birdie in a row; now on 10 he’s barely able to advance his ball 30 yards up the hole having found thick, lush rough. He should escape with a par, lashing his third into the heart of the green, but this is a hole that’s been giving birdies away like confetti. Ho hum, the vagaries of golf.
Tiger scrambles another par after being out of position all the way up 15. His putter has seriously let him down during most of his round today, but without it on the last two holes, where he’s made two big par saves, he’d have carded five bogeys in a row. Answers on a postcard if anybody knows the last time Tiger did that, if indeed he’s ever done it at all.
Joel Dahmen made a rare old mess of 9 in the gloaming last night. A triple-bogey seven dropped him out of a tie for third to a tie for 17th. So he’ll be pleased with a belated bounceback birdie at 1. He’s -4, as is his partner Brendan Steele, who also birdies the hole. Meanwhile Bryson DeChambeau picks up his first stroke of the day at 3, and he’s -3. And they’re flying in at the minute, Rory McIlroy getting his reward for stroking a gorgeous 5-iron straight at the flag on 8. He’s -2, and steadfastly refusing to go away, despite some very inconsistent play all week.
The 2018 Masters champ Patrick Reed drops one at 2, the result of finding a fairway bunker with his tee shot. He’s -1. His partner Bryson DeChambeau makes another par to remain at -2. Meanwhile birdie for Collin Morikawa at 3, a straight 30-footer calmly rolled across the dancefloor; he’s -3.
Tiger allows himself a wide, wry smile as he escapes 14 with a par. The hole was his round in microcosm, alternating between the good and the terrible: an awful drive into thick cabbage, a stunning iron whipped into the green that was so unfortunate to topple off the back, a flubbed chip, and a staunch par saver. For once you can’t blame the flat stick.
A birdie for Jon Rahm at the par-five 4th. That’s his second of the day, after screeching his approach at 1 to kick-in distance. Suddenly one of the pre-tournament favourites is -3. But retaining momentum after a good start has proven a problem for most today. First Justin Thomas, now Emiliano Grillo, whose tee shot at the long par-three 8th is bunkered. He makes a mess of getting out, and soon enough he’s rattled up a double-bogey five. He slips back to -2.
Patrick Cantlay, who you may recall leading last year’s Masters on Sunday afternoon for 0.8723645872 seconds, rolls in a 20-footer on 18 for his fourth birdie of a flawless day. He signs for a 66 and becomes the new clubhouse leader at -3.
Tiger makes his third bogey in a row, three-putting from the edge of the 13th. He’s +4 and don’t be surprised to see the old flat stick back out tomorrow. Back on 6, McIlroy follows birdie with bogey, the result of an over-zealous tee shot. He’s -1 again. And it’s pars for DeChambeau and Reed on 1, the former getting down in impressive style from a tight spot behind the green. They’re both -2.
Bryson DeChambeau and Patrick Reed are out. What a pairing this is. One that’ll irritate all the right bores. Both blooter big drives down the track, like that’s going to be breaking news. Elsewhere, Emiliano Grillo’s run of birdies comes to an end, though only after he passes up a very makeable putt on the short par-four 7th. An irritating way to return to terra firma.
Another birdie for Grillo! His fourth in a row, at 6, and he reaches the heights of -4. Rory finally makes one, from the edge of 5, and he moves to -2. Maybe I spoke too soon. But up on 12, Tiger bogeys again after a litany of errors: a drive into thick rough, a hot 5-wood through the back, a lob that bounds through the green, and a chip left timidly short. He’s +3 and ticking.