The Country Club was no picnic on Day 3 of the US Open.
“This place,” Will Zalatoris proclaimed even after shooting at Saturday-best 67 to assume a share of the lead with a 4-under 206, “is a beast.”
With winds whipping at an average of 16 m.p.h., gusting up to 31 m.p.h., and periodically (and rather capriciously) disappearing, an already challenging course became bewildering for the 64 golfers who survived the cut. Even with a narrowed field comprised of the world’s elite, the average score for the third round jumped to 73.5 – up a stroke-and-a-half from the 72.0 average in Round 2.
Birdies became scarce, with just 12.0 percent of holes resulting in an under-par score – a significant drop from the 14.8 percent rate on Friday. Bogeys, meanwhile, jumped from 23.5 percent of holes in Round 2 to 27.6 percent of holes in Round 3.
Given the weather shift, it comes as little surprise that the field found it increasingly difficult to stay on the fairways and greens. Just 51 percent of drives stayed on fairways (down from 54 percent in Round 2), and the field found their way onto the greens without veering into the rough or hazards on 52 percent of the holes – down from a 59 percent greens in regulation rate on Friday.
The difficulty of finding the greens on nearly half of the holes had a birdie-proofing effect. That shift was most evident on the par-5 eighth hole, which had played to a combined 117 strokes under par, with the 156-player field enjoying an average of 0.75 strokes taken off their scores over the first two days of the tournament.
On Saturday, the eighth played evenly, averaging exactly 5.0 strokes – up from a 4.625 average on the first two days. The 560-yard hole thus accounted for roughly 25 percent of the day’s jump in scoring.
After 81 percent of golfers reached the green in their first three strokes on both Thursday and Friday, with winds creating havoc, that number fell to 69 percent on Saturday, helping to explain the yield of just 13 birdies and four eagles on the hole.