Saturday at the 113th edition of the U.S. Open began with a few questions.
Which way will Phil Mickelson—who has more runner-up finishes than anyone in history at the U.S. Open—move on moving day?
What will co-leader Billy Horschel—untested at the majors, but with a win on Tour this year—do?
Will Tiger Woods make a charge? Will Rory McIlroy?
Will Merion continue to be the ultimate winner this week?
We'll discuss these questions and more in this selection of winners and losers from Day 3 of the season's second major.
The red wicker baskets atop the pins aren't just iconic symbols of one of the finest golf courses in the world. They aren't merely an innovation that doesn't reveal wind direction around the greens (unlike their wispy cousin, the flag).
The baskets are beasts.
The bit of red wicker on the 12th hole dominated Lee Westwood during the opening round when he dared to strike it with his pitch shot.
The wicker baskets claimed at least one other player today when Michael Weaver struck the fixture on the 18th hole, his ball caroming off the front of the green. Phil Mickelson, too, had a run-in with the wicker.
The wicker baskets are definitely winners. The only downside to their week so far: being caressed by Johnny Miller.
A botched flop shot on the sixth hole joins Tiger Woods' other duffs, fluffs and chunks from earlier in the week. The list was already long, especially after he failed to get the ball on the green with several pitches Friday.
Woods averaged nearly two putts per hole during the third round. If you're following along at home, that's about what you can expect from a 20-handicapper.
Looking back on the tournament in years hence, his odious three-putt at the 10th hole will be seen as the moment when it became clear that Tiger's 15th major wasn't coming at Merion.
Do you remember when, prior to the tournament, every talking head in the business seemed to be saying that scoring records would fall at Merion this week?
Do you remember how, after the torrential rains, the short course would be too soft to challenge the game's best?
Well, for a third day in a row, the USGA and Old Man Par are winners.
Only six players were under par on their rounds Saturday, and even the leaders weren't exactly scorching the course. Indeed, only Phil Mickelson is under par after three rounds at Merion.
Sure, the local muni can play tough with greens that run at a 13.5 on the Stimpmeter and pins cut three paces from the edge. However, what the USGA seems to have done, miraculously, is lay out the course in such a way that even par will likely win.
After an uninspired round of 77 led to a missed cut yesterday, Zach Johnson had some harsh words that were so dumb, the fallout continues a day later.
Looking very much like a sore loser, Johnson, in the Des Moines Register, said:
It’s manipulative. It just enhances my disdain for how the USGA manipulates the golf course. I’ve felt that for awhile, probably since my first USGA experience. I know it going in, so I’m not shocked or surprised.
Karen Guregian of the Boston Herald suggested today that Johnson shut up.
I wholeheartedly agree.
A glance at the top of the leaderboard after the third round of the U.S. Open reveals a variety of national flags.
Here's a sampling of international winners from Day 3 and where they stand on the leaderboard after 54 holes of play.
T2: Charl Schwartzel (South Africa)
T5: Luke Donald (England)
T5: Justin Rose (England)
8: Jason Day (Australia)
After three days at the Masters, it was the Australians who surged to the lead, with Jason Day, Marc Leishman and Adam Scott leaping to the fore. At the season's second major, there is a more diverse international presence atop the board.
From Hunter Mahan's matching aqua hat and belt with neon-accented shoes to Billy Horschel's "Hey, look at me, I'm in the final group at a major" striped shirt, bold clothing choices seemed de rigueur at Merion on Saturday.
At the same course where the impeccably attired Bobby Jones won the final leg of his Grand Slam and the eternally navy-and-gray-clad Ben Hogan won in 1950, Charl Schwartzel teed off dressed in a tablecloth.
Peacockery is big on tour right now, and Saturday at Merion was just another example of this.
It was a good day for some of those with an "s" starting either their first or last names. One player, Steve Stricker, has an "s" at the beginning of both.
How'd he fare?
Stricker, who began the day at even par, ended the day at the same score with an impressive par save at the last.
Charl Schwartzel, the leader for much of the day, fired an impressive one-under 69. Brandt Snedeker, +8 for the tournament after three rounds, put together a quality round of even par today. John Senden was four over for the day, a respectable round by the standards at Merion. At the end of the third round, he found himself only a few strokes out of the lead.
Unfortunately, it wasn't all great for the gents with an "s" beginning their first/last name...
This is not a repeat. Well, in some ways it is.
Bear with me.
Shawn Stefani, Kyle Stanley, Simon Khan and Kevin Sutherland were more than a combined 50 over par today. Even by the punishing standards of Merion, that's not too good.
On a day full of losers, the aforementioned were the big losers.
Fortunately, it's not all bad for the letter S, as the previous slide indicates.
Both members of the short list of "best players without a major," Luke Donald and Justin Rose were both winners Saturday at Merion.
Donald, despite difficulty on the final hole, was one over for the day and stands at one over for the tournament, two strokes behind leader Phil Mickelson. Rose, for his part, was exactly the same, one over for the day and one over for the championship.
Even Ian Poulter, another name on the list, had a decent day. Poults was three over for the day, which wasn't a bad score for the third round of this U.S. Open.
For a third day in a row, announcers referred to Phil Mickelson taking a red-eye flight to get back to Philadelphia for his tee time Thursday morning.
For the sake of clarity, here's the definition of a "red-eye" (via Wikipedia):
A red-eye flight typically moves east during the night hours. It departs late at night, lasts only about three to five hours, an insufficient period to get fully rested in flight, and due to forward time zone changes the aircraft lands around dawn. As a result, many travelers are unable to get sufficiently rested before a new day of activity.
What Mickelson did was get on his private Gulfstream jet and sleep in a bed that happened to be moving before being chauffeured to the course ahead of his tee time.
Lefty hardly experienced the plight of the business traveler flying coach on a business trip.
Phil Mickelson, Rickie Fowler, Hunter Mahan: Remember these guys from the Ryder Cup?
They all were winners at Merion on Saturday.
Mickelson, of course, had a phenomenal back nine en route to a final-round 70. The only player in the field under par, his one-under score leads. Fowler had the round of the day, a 67, and jumped into ninth place at three over for the tournament.
Mahan was also under par for the day; his one-under score moved him to even par for the tournament.
It wasn't a great day for the marquee names on the Nike golf roster.
Tiger Woods, en route to his highest 54-hole total ever at the U.S. Open, made seven bogeys and carded a 76. His bid for a 15th major now appears on hold until the Open Championship.
Rory McIlroy also made seven bogeys, against two birdies. The Ulsterman finished five over par for the day, and at eight over for the tournament, he has no chance of victory.
Kyle Stanley, also a Nike staffer, was the worst of the bunch: He shot a pathetic 85 today.
It will be interesting to see what kind of ad the wizzes at Nike come up with to capitalize on their stars' performance this week.