Carnage at the Country Club creates tightly bunched field for 2022 US Open final round
Featured Suggested Links U.S. Open

Carnage at the Country Club creates tightly bunched field for 2022 US Open final round

DESPITE A TRIPLE BOGEY OF A SHIRT, RORY MCILROY IS ONE STROKE BEHIND AFTER ONE ROUND OF THE 2022 U.S. OPEN AT THE COUNTRY CLUB


BROOKLINE, Mass. – Shocking, positively shocking -- but delightful as well.

Golfer after golfer seized the lead during some point in the third round of the 2022 US Open -- eight in all, including three major champions -- and none of them could hold on to it. The Country Club started as a polo and racing grounds, so it was fitting that it played like a ferociously bucking bronco, sending the world’s best golfers tumbling down the leaderboard. When the dust cleared and everyone picked themselves out of the dirt, the two players with the least hoof prints on their back were young American Will Zalatoris and England’s Matthew Fitzpatrick, neither of whom own a major. But it was the plight of others that left them the overnight leaders.

Defending champion Jon Rahm had a brain spasm on 18, perhaps the biggest blunder in a comedy of them. The closing hole at The Country Club is not a difficult hole -- pesky, perhaps, but not difficult, and certainly not the kind of hole you turn into chopped salad. It's definitely not the kind of hole where you turn a one-shot lead into a one-shot deficit going into the final round, but that’s exactly the ghastly mistake the Spaniard made.

Standing at 5 under on the tee, Rahm had caught fire late, with birdies at 14, 15 and 17 to take the lead. Playing in the second-to-last pairing of the day and knowing the twosome behind him had both floundered (Joel Dahman had a 74 and finished at 1-under 209, and overnight co-leader Collin Morikawa carded 77 and sank to 2 over), Rahm drove into the left fairway bunker. All the room in the world to the right, and of course he drove left: his first mistake.

But then came the lightning strike, the shot of the day, the one that let a whole bunch more people back into the tournament. Trying to heroically muscle an 8-iron to the green from Brookline’s soft sand over the tall, thick-fescued eyebrows, Rahm didn’t even come close. It caromed into the grassed-over sandy face, then it rolled back, smirking at Rahm as it did. It came to rest about one centimeter from where it started.

By all rights, it should have rolled into Rahm’s footprint.

You could read his eyes: not quite a look of horror, but at least some reprieve. Thank Heaven for small favors? Still, mistake No. 2. Time to bear down and limit the damage, right?

But The Country Club wasn’t quite through with the defending champ yet. Or is it that the defending champ wasn’t through doing it to himself? Maybe it’s both, but Rahm hit the next sand shot into the chasm of a bunker that guards the front of the green at the closing hole. Mistake No. 3 led to a fried egg greenside.

That’s how you make a double bogey on 18. At least he didn’t do it on Sunday.

Still, Rahm was optimistic, as he should be. It’s 18 more grueling holes, and a cold windy, wild five hours to go.

“The truth is, 18, it was six good shots. Unfortunately, it added up to 6, but it was all good swings," Rahm said curiously. “If anything, it was maybe a choice or a decision on the fairway bunker, but swings were good, so execution was proper. So I'm happy about that in that sense.”

When pressed however, Rahm was good enough to candidly admit the other side of the argument as well.

“Maybe I was trying to get too cute...looking for another birdie, where I could have just hit a 9-iron and hope it gets over the bunker and see what happens,” he grinned sheepishly. “It is what it is. I think I got a little bit too cute with the shot.”

Then there’s the tragedy of Collin Morikawa, who fell down the leader board like his parachute didn’t open. Morikawa burst out of a pack of nine players at the 2020 PGA Championship to win his first major, then he throttled the field with precision play over the quirky links of St. George’s to win the 2021 Open Championship. With a lead after 36 holes, he looked to be the steadiest shotmaker over the weekend and hoist the US Open trophy for his third major title in as many years.

Morikawa zig-zagged across the rocks and chocolate drops of the Country Club like a lost cat. Four bogeys and two doubles in the 12-hole span of Nos. 4-15 sent the two-time major winner off the first page of the leader board and into a tie for 17th place, six strokes behind the leaders.

What a soul-crushing round -- and on Moving Day as well. A three-putt double bogey at the relatively easy seventh. A tugged wedge into shaggy rough at the 13th and three more to get down for another double bogey. Those were bad enough. But even his good shots were just not quite perfect enough. The 18th was a microcosm. The tee shot? One inch in the rough. The approach? Just enough of a flyer to get over the flag and to the swale that would ordinarily swerve the ball back to the pin. This could turn out great!

Except it stopped on the ridge, 35 feet away.

Morikawa was hoping to become the fifth golfer to win three different majors before turning 26, joining McIlroy, Jack Nicklaus, Jordan Spieth and Tiger Woods.

So who’s going to win? The guy who happens to be ahead after 72 holes, that’s who. Unless there’s two of them. And every time the U.S. Open has come to The Country Club, there has been a p***off won by Francis Ouimet, Julius Boros and Curtis Strange, respectively.

And there’s one other winner as well: The Country Club. This course truly is the definitive article. It’s sad the footprint is so small; the event has to be streamlined in nearly every way. But this is a proper golf course. And one look at the leaderboard will assure you – we will have a proper battle and a proper winner as well.

About the author

Jay Flemma

Jay Flemma

Starting with a blog and a dream, Jay Flemma launched his first sports-writing website in 2004. Some 13 years and 25 major golf championships later, Jay has won multiple national sports writing awards. Besides GNN, his work has appeared in numerous books as well as on-line at Cybergolf, PGA.com, GolfObserver, GolfChannel.com and many other sites and print magazines. When not trying to find a lost golf ball, Jay is an entertainment, copyright, Internet, sports and trademark lawyer in Manhattan. His clients have been nominated for Grammy and Emmy awards, won a Sundance Film Festival Best Director award, performed on stage and screen, and designed pop art for museums and collectors. Jay lives in Forest Hills, N.Y., and is fiercely loyal to his alma maters, Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts and Trinity College in Connecticut.