Lowry Surges Ahead in Suspended Third Round
By David Shefter, USGA
OAKMONT, Pa. – Last week, the Republic of Ireland rejoiced over Great Britain and Ireland reclaiming the Curtis Cup just outside of Dublin. Just think of the celebration that will ensue if native son Shane Lowry wins the 116th U.S. Open Championship, at Oakmont Country Club.
Lowry, 29, owns a two-stroke lead over unheralded PGA Tour rookie Andrew Landry late in the suspended third round. Twenty-five of the 67 players who made the cut still had holes remaining when darkness halted play for the day at 8:49 p.m. EDT. The third round will resume at 7 a.m. on Sunday, and the field will go out in groups of two for the final round after a 45-minute break.
Lowry, 5 under par through 50 holes, was part of another marathon day at Oakmont as players had to finish Round 2 before the cut was made to the low 60 scorers and ties. The third round began at 3 p.m., with players going off the first and 10th tees in groups of three. Earlier on Saturday, Lowry carded an even-par 70 to get within two strokes of 36-hole leader Dustin Johnson at the midway point.
Landry, who is looking to become the first player in 103 years to win the U.S. Open in his first major-championship start (Francis Ouimet), is 3 under through 49 holes.
Behind Landry, nine golfers are within six strokes of the lead, a group that includes world No. 1 Jason Day, who shot a 4-under 66 to move from a tie for 45th to a share of eighth at 1-over 211. Day and 2015 Open Championship winner Zach Johnson (1 over through 53 holes) are the only golfers in the top 11 with a major title in their portfolio.
Dustin Johnson, Lee Westwood and Sergio Garcia – three players with a plethora of major-championship heartbreak in their past – are three shots back with as many as five holes remaining in their third rounds.
Those chasers can take heart that Johnny Miller rallied from six strokes back to win the 1973 U.S. Open at Oakmont with a final-round 63, a round widely considered one of the greatest in major championship history.
“It's good to have a major under my belt, but I'm just trying to win the tournament,” said Day, who has been playing catch-up since his first-round 76. “That's all I want to do is try to win the tournament. I think I've given myself an opportunity getting there. We'll see how those guys go in the morning and hopefully I'll be there.”
Lowry, a three-time winner on the PGA European Tour, has only two top-10 finishes in 13 previous major-championship starts, but one came in last year’s U.S. Open at Chambers Bay, where he tied for ninth. He also won the 2015 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, and he first showed signs of greatness when he won his national championship, the 2009 Irish Open, as an amateur.
Now he’s solidly in contention to claim his first major.
“I’m quite happy that we didn't have another four holes to play,” said Lowry, who played 32 holes on Saturday. “It's been a long day, so looking forward to getting out there tomorrow. This is right where you want to be. I’m really looking forward to tomorrow.”
Lowry hopes he can continue his hot play from Saturday afternoon, when he registered birdies on four of his last nine holes. The only blemish in that stretch was a bogey on the 247-yard, par-3 eighth.
“We all know that this course can jump up and bite you in a split second,” said Lowry, who would be the fifth European since 2010 to win the U.S. Open. “I'm two ahead with 22 holes left. Let's not get ahead of ourselves. These are the best golfers in the world behind me, Dustin and Jason. Sergio played lovely today. Like I said, I have to go out and do what I’ve been doing all week. I’m really looking forward to tomorrow.”
Landry began the championship with the best first round (66) in the nine U.S. Opens staged at Oakmont. After shooting 4 over par in a three-hole stretch midway through his second round, it would have been easy to discount him. Instead, he battled back to shoot 71, and then playing with world No. 6 Dustin Johnson and Scott Piercy in the final grouping late Saturday, the 28-year-old Texan was even par with five holes left. Now he’s being mentioned in the same breath as Ouimet, the 20-year-old Massachusetts amateur who remarkably defeated English stalwarts Harry Vardon and Ted Ray in a playoff at The Country Club in 1913. Ben Curtis (2003 Open Championship) and Keegan Bradley (2011 PGA Championship) are the only other players to win a major in their first start.
No. 624 in the Official World Golf Ranking, Landry has made only five of 11 cuts in his rookie season on the PGA Tour, with his best finish a tie for 41st in last week’s FedEx St. Jude Classic in Memphis, Tenn. He also would be the first U.S. Open champion to make it through local and sectional qualifying since Orville Moody in 1969. The former University of Arkansas All-American doesn’t seem fazed by his situation.
“I feel like I play good golf on hard golf courses where par is a good score,” said Landry. “That's just kind of my game. It's always been my game. It's kind of like Q-School. It’s such a hard, long six rounds of golf. You just have to stay really patient and try not to make a lot of mistakes.”
Westwood, Dustin Johnson and Garcia all seem ready to finally win a major. Westwood, 43, of England, has nine top-three finishes, two of which have come in the U.S. Open (2008 and 2011). Garcia, 36, of Spain, finished fourth in the 2002 U.S. Open at Bethpage Black and tied for third in 2005 at Pinehurst No. 2. Johnson, who turns 32 on Wednesday, was the 54-hole leader in 2010, only to shoot a final-round 82, and most remember his painful three-putt on the 72nd green last year at Chambers Bay to lose by one to Jordan Spieth.
All three would be popular champions given their ages and past disappointments.
“I've been in the position before, so I know what to expect,” said Johnson. “I know how to handle it. Hopefully, the ball falls my way tomorrow.”
David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at email@example.com.