Four Players Tied at the Top in 2015 US Open at Chambers Bay

Notes on the 3rd day of the 2015 US Open at Chambers Bay. Four players are tied at the top at four under and four hang in the wings at -1.

Yesterday, in the third round of competition at the 2015 US Open National Championship four players emerged as the 54 hole leader(s) in the field.

2015 U.S. Open
Phil Mickelson-(Copyright USGA/Darren Carroll)

 

PatrickReed-(Copyright USGA/John Mummert)
PatrickReed-(Copyright USGA/John Mummert)

But, before we talk about them, let’s talk about a couple others. Phil Mickelson started out the day at +3 and ended up +10 at the end of the day. So, he’s out. Sad.  Partick Reed dropped off the radar with a 76 yesterday after being in the lead after two rounds. He squandered a share of the lead and fell back into the mix of 6 other players at +1. So, can he comeback? Can he hold his finger up to his lips after today’s round and re-declare himself capable of being the #1 player in the field? I think not.

Louis Oosthuizen
Louis Oosthuizen-copyright Cliff Cowley

Louis Oosthuizen, however, could be the come-back kid of the tourney. Oosthuizen was seven over on Thursday in his first round. On Friday, he came back with a 66 and did a repeat with another 66 on Saturday to end up at -1. If he goes back out and shoots well again, he could be in contention for the trophy. During his post round interview yesterday, he mentioned the value of grinding it out during a tournament. Oosthuizen said, basically, that when you have a bad round, it’s important to keep going and not give up. He said it’s a good time to try things out and just keep going (sort of like turning a real round into a practice round). “You can use it as an opportunity to work on your game for the next week’s competition,” said the eleven time US Open participant and 2010 British Open champion. He went on to say that, “It’s important to grind it out during a tournament, because you never know how it will turn out.” His play on Friday and Saturday, moved him up the board by 8 strokes. His comments about sticking-to-it is a good philosophy for junior players. Often, a young person will give up during a round, or a tournament, because they think they don’t have a chance to win, or post a good score. They need to learn in the game, and in life, the importance of grinding it out. You never know what will happen. At 5’10 and 180 lbs., he is one of the smallest players on tour, but he is, consistently, referred to as one of the players that can go after it and hit the ball long and straight. If he can repeat his previous two performances out there today, he’ll be in the mix.

The Four Tops

Four players, Jason Day, Dustin Johnson, Brandon Grace and Jordan Spieth, ended-up tied for the lead at -4. Even though they will be playing in two groups, they are the “final four.” Technically, according to golf protocol, it’s “first in-last out,” which dictates the final pairing, but what the hell, this is a special and unique situation. I consider them all equally “best” for today’s round. Jordan Spieth and Branden Grace will tee off at 2:48 PT, and Dustin Johnson and Jason Day will follow at 3:00 PT

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Jordan Spieth-copyright Cliff Cowley

Jordan Spieth, if he wins, will be the first Masters champion to win the U.S. Open in the same year since Tiger Woods in 2002. He could become the youngest champion of the U.S. Open since Bob Jones in 1923, and the youngest to win two career majors since Gene Sarazen in 1922. After his round, that included 4 birdies and 5 bogies, Spieth said, “The bogeys could have easily been pars, and a lot of the pars could have been birdies.” He went on to say the greens were faster in the afternoon than in the morning when he played before. “Now that I know that, I can adjust for it. Actually, I really like the fast greens,” he added. When he was asked about the conditions of the greens that are the main focal point of complaints by the players during the tournament he said, “It’s tricky because of the gravel-poa annua-fescue, whatever it is, on these greens that are drying up. They putt a little different on those shorter putts.” Well, it is a former gravel pit. Spieth has the game, and the experience of winning a major under his belt, and is easily capable of winning.

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Dustin Johnson-copyright Cliff Cowley

Dustin Johnson felt he played well in the third round. This is the second time Dustin Johnson has held a 54-hole lead in the U.S. Open. He led by 3 strokes in 2010 at Pebble Beach, but shot a final round 82 to finish tied for eighth. It is the 4th time he has played in the final group in a major. At thirty years old, Johnson is considered in the realm of a golfer’s prime, yet he’s only been on The Tour for seven years. His ability to get the job done is evidenced by his 9 PGA Tour, and 2 European Tour victories. Yesterday was the first time he’s hit all the fairways in a round. Always humble in his outlook toward his game, he told the media, “If I can continue that on Sunday, and keep getting a look at some birdies, I think I’ll do alright.” His consistency and long drives, allowing for shorter irons into the green will be his “winning factor” in today’s final round.

Brandon Grace-(Copyright USGA/J.D. Cuban)
Brandon Grace-(Copyright USGA/J.D. Cuban)

Brandon Grace shot even par for the round yesterday with a birdie putt on #15 that put him in the mix of the leaders. A four time winner on the European Tour, Grace has yet to win on the PGA Tour, and has never been in the top 10. His European wins aside, he is the Cinderella factor of this year’s tournament.

Jason Day will be playing in the final group of a major championship for the first time. Jason Day is the “iffy” player this week. Not iffy with his game, iffy with his health. His battle with benign positional vertigo has had him falling down on #9 and nauseous through most of the round on Saturday. On 18 yesterday, he hit his drive and suffered dizziness as he followed the ball with his eyes. He looked down and shook his head and then looked back up. Making the putt for par on 18 put him 4 under over the last 7 holes and a share of the lead. After making the putt, he wiped his eye, blinked, and waved to the crowd in response to the standing ovation.

Jason Day-(Copyright USGA/Michael Cohen)
Jason Day-(Copyright USGA/Michael Cohen)

With his 68, he is the only player in the field to shoot 2 under on the day. We’ve often heard the saying, “Beware of the sick golfer.” What they mean by that is because of the extra problem, a golfer may focus more on just one shot at a time, play more on instinct, and end up having a good round just because of the extra focus on the shot rather than other things that can easily distract a healthy player. Jason has the game, and if he can make it through the day, he has a “healthy” chance at winning.

Today will be a test of who can grind it out under the most difficult circumstances a golf course can provide. From yardage, to layout, to pin placement, to the condition of the putting surface, all involved will be playing on the same turf . One winner will emerge and be able to say they are the best–the winner of our country’s national championship–the U.S. Open.

Cut-line–The 2nd Day of the 2015 US Open

Multiple players, multiple chances, and a true test from the course caused multiple changes in the weekend line-up at Chambers Bay.

DSCF6117Day two of the US Open Championship started with a few clouds and a little bit of a drizzle. However, the clouds soon parted and made way for another sunshiny day at Chambers Bay. Numerous slips of both feet (human) and inches (clubs) were made throughout the day to the disappointment of some and happiness of others.

The story of the day, or for the tournament for that matter, was injuries. Tiger’s feet slipped out from underneath him on the side of the hill on number 10, causing him to fall back on his hands. When he got up, he shook his left hand suggesting that it may have hurt a little, but as of this writing, there has been no word on his condition. Tiger ended up missing the cut at +16, however, so he will be able to nurse his wound without having it affect his game. Only three players beat him out for last place *caring and loving sarcasm, here*.

Jason Day collapsed on #9; his last hole of the day. He finished out the hole after medics checked him out. He mentioned that he was experiencing vertigo before he fell. He was treated briefly before leaving, and according to sources, he stayed in an RV on the property and is determined to continue in the tournament. The diagnosis is benign positional vertigo. In other words, he got dizzy because of a displacement of little stones on the end of the follicles in the inner ear. He has had related medical problems in the past. We are hopeful for him and wish him well. He is a crowd favorite and has been in contention in the majors over the last couple years.

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Jimmy Gunn-copyright Cliff Cowley

The cut-line ended up at +5 allowing 15 players to join the weekend rounds, including Troy Kelley who hails out of nearby Lakewood, WA, as well as Jimmy Gunn.  Gunn grew up at Royal Dornach Golf Club in Dornach, Scottland, and has a kinship with Circling Raven Golf Course near Spokane, WA.

 

Michael Putnam-(Copyright USGA/J.D. Cuban)
Michael Putnam-(Copyright USGA/J.D. Cuban)
Ryan Moore- (Copyright USGA/Darren Carroll)
Ryan Moore- (Copyright USGA/Darren Carroll)

Local favorites Michael Putnam and Ryan Moore both failed to make the cut at +7 and +9, respectively, as did Richard Lee of Bellevue. When asked about his round, Ryan Moore said he started out well, but was disappointed in his overall performance. “In the end, I just didn’t hit enough golf shots. I played all right on the front today. I shot even, made a couple silly bogeys, but felt like I was controlling the ball decent enough. [Things] just started going the wrong direction on my second nine.”

Richard Lee of Bellevue, WA, and Ashland, Oregon’s native Jason Allred also missed the cut.

Other northwest notables, Cheng-Tsung Pan, who recently turned professional after playing for the University of Washington, made the cut at +3. Troy Kelly of nearby city of Tacoma who was previously outside of the cut-line was added along with 14 other players when last minute slips by the last groups raised the cut to +5. Included on the “Whew, I made it list,” were Webb Simpson, Collin Montgomery, Sergio Garcia, and Angel Cabrera.

Brandon Grace from South Africa carded an eagle and two birdies to make a jump up the leader board to -4. My favorite, Ernie Ells, slid under the wire at +2.  Defending champion, Martin Kymer, missed the cut at +6. Dustin Johnson bogeyed #17 and twice found bunkers on the 18th to end up at 4 under. Patrick Reed recorded five birdies and an eagle to move to -5 and tie Jordan Spieth for the lead, who recorded a tidy little 67 for the day.

Interestingly enough, along with the firsts that have been cropping up with this tournament, it’s the first time that par has been switched on a hole during a tournament. On Monday, #1 was a Par 4 and #18 was a Par 5. In the second round, they added 92 yards to #1 making it a Par 5, and moved the tees forward 103 yards on #18, making it a Par 4. The change to #1 effectively made the front nine the longest nine holes in the history of a major at 4,020 yards. The total yardage of the course is a whopping 7,695 yards, the longest in history.

2015 U.S. Open
Hossler-(Copyright USGA/Darren Carroll)
2015 U.S. Open
Campbell-(Copyright USGA/Fred Vuich)

Looking to the future of golf, an impressive six amateurs made the cut led by Brian Campbell at -1. Another amateur, Beau Hossler, who qualified for the 2012 US Open at the Olympic Club in San Francisco when he was 17, is competing for in his third US Open at Chambers Bay and playing for the weekend coming in at +3.

Looking forward to day three…moving day.

Reflections on the First Day of the US Open

Open for Business
The first round of the first US Open in the Northwest, went off , sort of, without a hitch yesterday as the world watched Tiger post a +10 for the round the worst score of his US Open career. Either in a bunker, or in the tall grass, his score showed the importance of accuracy at Chambers Bay. Tiger showed, consistently, that he is still “working on his swing.”

It was a good day for Dustin Johnson and Henrik Stenson who ended their rounds tied for the lead at -5.

The consistency of the type of grass proved to be a little too much for Tiger. Planted in fescue throughout, the grass was coined by the DSCF6083locals as “fescrewya” grass. It can definitely take its toll on a golfer as noticed yesterday with Tiger Woods. On hole number 8, he hit his drive into the steep bank bordering the fairway. An awkward stance combined with the tall grass made him lose his grip on the club causing it to take off like a boomerang. His club, like his game, have yet to return to the same spot it was, as evidenced by the high score. As one of the last players to finish in the evening, he was also the only player to land in the deep bunker in the middle of #18, carding yet another bogey to finish off the round.
Designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr., Chambers Bay was actually shaped to be a potential venue for the US Open. With the versatility of multiple tee boxes at different positions and lengths, it is a dream US Open type course course allowing different set ups that can make each hole a separate challenge at any given time. It is truly a links style track with a Scottish links look and feel….on steroids. It’s like someone stuck an air hose in the dirt and inflated it to huge mounds. Steep banks, the likes of what Tiger Woods had to endure yesterday on #8 abound throughout the course. You’re lucky to be able to climb it, let alone stand on it and make a shot. And, the grass can be extremely slippery. A couple caddies slipped and fell during the practice rounds earlier in the week.

Following the Action
Yesterday, there was a flow of conversation percolating through the crowd about not being able to follow the players. As I walked with DSCF6836the crowd, I overheard snippets of conversation to the effect of, “I could see better if I watched it on TV at home,” and, “We’re spending more time walking than watching.” Indeed, the venue is different than others, for sure. Instead of roped fairways where spectators can line the sides and see the action up-close and personal, there are designated viewing areas along with multiple grandstands positioned around the course for viewing play. If you come out over the next two days, it’s best to find a spot in a grandstand and watch the players come through, rather than follow them around. Best places for viewing are along holes 15-18. The holes are exciting and can be pivotal to a player’s game. The grandstands on 8 and 9 are also suggested. There is also a standing against the ropes viewing area along hole six. If you want to watch the 1st and last hole, there is a concessions area on a spit of land between #1 and #10 holes. You could walk back and forth between the holes depending on who’s playing.

How It Played
The course has been mentioned as a thinking man’s and/or shot DSCF6841maker’s course. Course management is key, even though the first round leaders, Dustin Johnson and Henrik Stenson are both big hitters. In a post round interview, Johnson said that when he played it the first time, he liked it right away. “It suits my game,” he says. He went on to say that you need to be able to place the ball in a certain area to be able to hit a decent second shot into the green.

DSCF6842Collin Montgomery had similar things to say about the need for course strategy. “I can’t hit it like the young guys anymore. They are hitting a 5 iron 220 yards while I am getting about 180 yards out of mine. You definitely have to use good course management out here, and have the ability to make a shot into the green to the spot you want. Otherwise, it may roll off the green instead of toward the hole.”

Mike Davis is in complete agreement with how the course dictates the need for course management by each individual player. “It won’t surprise me if on some holes you see a group of three teeing off, and somebody hits a driver, somebody hits a 3-wood and somebody hits an iron,” Davis said. “They’re thinking through their course management, and we would give that a big thumbs up.”

A Long Time Comin’
As I was walking out of the dining area in the media tent last night around 9pm, I noticed a white haired gentleman sitting by himself with his eyes glued to the TV. As I walked by, I realized it was Robert Trent Jones Jr. I shook his hand and sat down. Here he was, the genius behind one of the most unique courses built in the last twenty years, sitting by himself, watching the end of the round. I started to speak, and he kindly stopped me and said, “Not now. I’ve been waiting for this for the last five years.” I politely excused myself and he acknowledged my departure.  I was not offended by his brush-off.  I completely understood.  We’ve been waiting, too, and now it’s here.