BROOKLINE — Matt Fitzpatrick has been superstitious since arriving in Boston. He won the 2013 US Amateur at The Country Club, so he wanted to do everything the same this week for the US Open.
He’s staying at the same house — with the family of Will Fulton, a TCC member and the general chairman of the championship. Fitzpatrick is sleeping in the same bed. He is even making Fulton’s children sleep in the rooms they slept in nine years ago.
And it’s working.
Fitzpatrick, who has not won a PGA Tour event or finished higher than 12th at a US Open, sits atop the leaderboard once again at TCC. He is tied with Will Zalatoris at 4 under entering Sunday’s final round after shooting an impressive 2-under 68 Saturday. Zalatoris was one shot better Saturday, carding four birdies and just one bogey for a 3-under 67, the low round of a punishing day at TCC.
Only 12 male golfers in history, and two in the last 40 years, have won both the US Amateur and US Open (Tiger Woods, Bryson DeChambeau). Only Jack Nicklaus has done it at the same course (Pebble Beach).
Fitzpatrick, a 27-year-old native of Sheffield, England, clearly likes the setup at The Country Club, shooting 68-70-68 this week.
He just needs one more flawless round.
“I certainly think it gives me an edge over the others,” Fitzpatrick said of his 2013 Amateur championship, in a field that included Scottie Scheffler, DeChambeau, Zalatoris and Justin Thomas. “It’s a real, obviously, positive moment in my career. It kind of kick-started me. To come back here and play so well again, it kind of just gives me growing confidence round by round.”
Jon Rahm, too, will be aiming for history after shooting a roller-coaster 71. Sitting one back at 3 under, Rahm can become the eighth player to repeat as US Open champion, a list that includes Bobby Jones, Ben Hogan and, most recently, Brooks Koepka. Rahm, ranked No. 2 in the world, won last year’s championship at Torrey Pines for his first major.
“I have 18 holes, and I’m only one shot back,” Rahm said. “I just have to do me. That’s it.”
Of course, the championship is wide open entering Sunday’s final round, with seven players sitting within three shots of Zalatoris and Fitzpatrick. Rahm will play with New England native Keegan Bradley, who wowed the home crowd with a 2-under 68 and sits two shots back. Scheffler (two back), Rory McIlroy (three back) and a handful of others are well within range.
If Saturday’s conditions were any indication, Sunday’s final round is going to be a wild and grueling test. With unseasonably cool temperatures, a slick course that has barely seen a drop of rain this week, and winds consistently gusting between 20-30 miles per hour, only seven of 64 golfers finished under par Saturday.
While Zalatoris and Fitzpatrick handled the wind superbly, Rahm’s 1-over 71 was much more indicative of the course’s difficulty. He had four birdies, three bogeys and finished his day with a double on 18.
Rahm certainly was not alone in his struggles. Collin Morikawa, who began the day as the co-leader, shot 7 over and dropped to a tie for 17th. Co-leader Joel Dahmen shot 3 over. McIlroy was 3 over, and Hayden Buckley was 5 over. Scheffler shot a 3-under 32 on the front nine, and imploded with a 4-over 39 on the back.
“I said to [my caddie] walking up 18, this is how a US Open should be,” said Thomas, who sits tied for 25th after shooting 2 over. “We don’t do this very often, and I think it’s very, very fitting and totally acceptable to have this kind of test and this difficult setup for a US Open. The greens are getting firm. It’s windy, and it should be tough.”
But while Fitzpatrick and Rahm will be chasing history, Zalatoris looks ready to spoil the party. One of golf’s fastest-rising stars, Zalatoris has been knocking on the door of majors the past three years.
Zalatoris finished tied for sixth at the 2020 US Open. Second at the 2021 Masters. Eighth at the 2021 PGA. Sixth at the 2022 Masters. Second at last month’s PGA, losing to Thomas in a playoff.
Zalatoris has not won a PGA Tour event, but the 2021 Rookie of the Year has six top-10 finishes this season. He hasn’t carded anything worse than a bogey all week at TCC.
Just three years ago, Zalatoris couldn’t even get status on the Korn Ferry Tour. He failed to make it through the minor league tour’s qualifying school in 2019, and had to rely on sponsor’s exemptions just to play in a handful of events.
Now he’s tied for the US Open lead after three rounds, in prime position to win his first major.
“Especially coming off the PGA, it gave me a lot of belief and confidence that I belong in this situation,” he said. “There’s a difference in thinking it, and then actually being in the situation and believing it. So I think that’s probably the biggest change.”
While Fitzpatrick has the history of 2013 on his side, Zalatoris might have the history of 1988 on his. The winner of the 1988 US Open, the last one played at TCC, was Curtis Strange, who played collegiately at Wake Forest. Zalatoris, too, was a Demon Deacon, winning 2017 ACC Player of the Year before turning pro in 2018.
Fitzpatrick and Zalatoris have a few commonalities. Zalatoris is ranked 14th in the world, Fitzpatrick 18th. They are also the only golfers ranked in the top 20 never to have won a PGA Tour event.
They are surrounded on the leaderboard by major champions — Rahm, Bradley, Scheffler, McIlroy, and Gary Woodland all within reach.
And they know Sunday at The Country Club can be a punishing day of golf.
“Literally when people ask me what’s the toughest golf course you’ve ever played, I’ve said, ‘The Country Club,’ since 2013,” Zalatoris said. “This place is a beast. It’s just so easy to compound mistakes out here. By no means is the job done. Not even close.”
Ben Volin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.