2015 U.S. Open, Day 3: Mean greens
By Torleif Sorenson on 6/20/15
On Friday, the 18th hole at Chambers Bay Golf Course captured the spotlight; many players described it as a "great par-5, but a stupid par-4." Fox Sports analyst and 1973 Open Championship victor Tom Weiskopf agreed. But the complaints from viewers and critics alike only increased on Saturday.
In the morning, a couple of hours before third round play began, multiple major champion Gary Player unleashed a tirade against the USGA and executive director Mike Davis for their course setup, although he went off-topic and aimed his proverbial flame-thrower far and wide:
LPGA superstar Christina Kim worried about the impact the U.S. Open horror show might make on people thinking of taking up golf in this tweet:
How tough was the setup on Saturday?The USGA forced players into a 280-yard carry over the bunker complex from the tee at the 14th hole.
Watching putt after putt bobble and wobble past hole after hole was so aggravating that at one point, I actually wanted to throw things at my television.At the 16th, Branden Grace hit the fairway with his tee shot, but the landing area was so dry that the ball's momentum carried it into and down a slope, and into the green-side bunker. Somehow, he managed to save par.
You would never see this farcical nonsense at The Masters.
Ben Martin had a straight four-footer for par at the 4th, but the poa annua interfered and refused to let the ball in. An excellent and competent player who shot 67-70 to get onto the top page of the leaderboard Friday night, Martin suffered five double-bogeys and shot 86 on Saturday.
Things only got worse in the afternoon, by which time the greens were completely baked out. Excellent players hit excellent tee shots into the middle of some fairways, and the shots still wound up rolling long and quickly into bunkers.
The scoring average on this par-70 layout was 73.13. Only six players scored under par: Louis Oosthuizen (66), Jason Day (68), Cameron Smith (69), Charl Schwartzel (69), Charlie Beljan (69), and Ian Poulter (69). Only nine players shot a level-par 70 — Rory McIlroy being one of them. The world's number-one probably would have broken par if not for some hideous putting on the hideously dry greens. In the evening, Fox Sports host Joe Buck announced that the final eight pairings were a combined 53 over par.
Right now, the U.S. Open is one dead body away from being a good murder mystery. We just hope that USGA executive director Mike Davis isn't in that role after Sunday evening.
The dream is over... for nowJust after Fox Sports took the air at 11 a.m. PDT, viewers beheld Phil Mickelson struggling mightily on the greens at Chambers Bay. On Friday, Lefty battled to stay inside the cut line, but on Saturday, his dream of winning the 2015 U.S. Open died an early and ugly death on the opening nine. Bogeys at 2, 3, 4, 7, and 9 had Lefty making the turn in 40. Mickelson shot 77 to finish the day at (+10) 220.
We look forward to seeing if he can tame Oakmont Country Club next June.
One day after suffering benign positional vertigo, the Aussie gamely played on. At 1:55 p.m. PDT, he arrived at the first tee, moving rather slowly — perhaps trying to not trigger another episode of vertigo. Happily, the young Aussie split the fairway, but suffered two bogeys at the 2nd and 4th, bringing him back to level par for the championship.
His caddie, Colin Swatton, revealed afterward that at three different times on Saturday, Day spoke of stopping and withdrawing:
At the cliffhanger tee-box at 17 and barely able to lean over and tee up his own ball, Day stuck a wedge to about 20 feet. And even with an explosion of applause from the 16th green when J.B. Holmes eagled from off the green, Day kept his composure and sank his own birdie putt. That boosted him to -3, just one off the lead.
While most other golfers were openly wrestling with this Open layout, Day tried and succeeded at keeping an even keel. But trouble occurred at 18 when his tee-shot caroomed off the corporate tent areas and bounded into the fescue right of the fairway. His lengthy third from 155 yards bounced beyond the hole, but trickled back to about five feet. Still dizzy and weak, Day sank it for birdie and a share of the lead.
After sliding off the lead with a Friday 71, Johnson held things together at the start. At the 2nd, he nearly holed his approach, but the ball rolled on and stopped in the middle of the back bunker. He blasted to five feet, but two-putted for bogey. At the par-3 3rd, Johnson hit his approach to five feet and sank the birdie putt. At the 4th hole, Johnson hit a delicate wedge to four feet, but the ball took a counter-clockwise 180° turn, lipping out. (The ball probably sneered at D.J., too.) Bogey. Then at the 5th, he curled in a 25-footer for a birdie to return to -4. Johnson advanced to -5 with another birdie at the 6th hole.
At the 8th, Johnson hit the green, but his ball rolled off the right edge and some 40 to 50 yards down a tromped down path of fescue, and onto a maintenance road. Fox cameras and microphones recorded the scene as a rules officials had Johnson drop the ball twice; it rolled back twice onto the maintenance road, so D.J. was permitted to place his ball:
He then pitched his third off the left bank of the green, with the ball stopping six feet to the right of the flagstick. His birdie putt slid just to the right, leaving him with a disgusting par.
More than a few of us viewers felt that Johnson was flat-out cheated there.
At the par-3 9th, he got a ten-footer to fall for a birdie and to tie Grace for the lead at 4:58 p.m. PDT. And seconds later, when Grace missed his par-saver, Johnson had the lead alone. But the 11th chewed another bogey out of him.
At 12, Johnson uncorked a mammoth tee-shot at the drivable 12th, and was rewarded when the ball came to a stop some 25 feet from the flagstick. He couldn't get his first putt to angle left, while playing partner Branden Grace couldn't get his own putt to turn to the right — from nearly the same place! Johnson's two-putt birdie got him to -6 and a two-shot lead. Grace bogeyed. One hole later at 13, Chambers Bay savaged D.J. for a double-bogey.
The fact that Johnson hit every fairway and still shot only level par shows how viciously tough the course setup was.
Branden GraceThe likable South African may not (yet) be a household name in the United States, but he won four times in 2012 and twice in 2014. This week, he quietly snuck up on the full field, shooting 69 + 67 (-4) to get on the first page of the leaderboard when play began on Saturday.
He used an excellent fairway bunker shot to about three feet at the 5th green. As Greg Norman pointed out on Fox, the idea in those fairway bunker shots is to keep your feet quiet. Grace did just that, then sank the birdie putt to advance to -5, one shot off Spieth's lead. He took the lead at the 8th hole by hitting the green in two, putting a nearly 100-foot putt just five feet from the cup, then holing the birdie putt. But as if Chambers Bay was some sort of live monster, it carved three bogeys out of Grace at 9, 12, and 13.
At the signature 15th, Grace swung his tee-shot over 50 feet up-and-back down the right ridge of the green, then sank the six-footer for birdie. Grace parred his way in from there, shooting a level-par 70.
Patrick ReedThe 24-year-old San Antonio native had his troubles early; in a bunker at the 2nd green, his sand wedge-third shot didn't even fly far enough to clear the bunker. With the ball well above his feet, Reed wedged out to about 12 feet. And then his bogey-saver slid to the right, resulting in a two-shot swing. After a bogey at the 498-yard 5th, Reed's approach to the sixth finished about 25 feet left of the hole, from which he sank one of the precious few long birdie putts anywhere on the course on Saturday.
But then at the Cape-style 7th hole, Reed four-putted for double-bogey. Immediately afterward, he appeared to reach down and perhaps try to repair the edge of the hole, leaving some of the Fox commentators atwitter and forcing former USGA boss David Fay to explain that because he had finished the hole, he wasn't violating any rules.
At the 8th, Reed nearly suffered the same fate as Dustin Johnson, but his ball nestled against a clump of fescue inside the edge of the maintenance road. His third rolled on and off the back bank, past the flagstick, and then stopped 20 feet away. The birdie failed to scare the hole. His par putt swirled and barely fell in.
Three double-bogeys through the first ten holes clearly frustrated him and even despite two birdies at 13, and 15, Reed shot 76 to fall into a tie for 9th place.
Jordan SpiethUnlike much of the rest of the field, the young Texan and reigning Masters champion was not immediately troubled by the speed of the greens. After a fine approach and birdie at the 2nd hole, he got another long birdie putt at 3 fell, getting him to -7 and a three-shot lead over Johnson and Grace.
But as the afternoon wore on and the course dried out, Spieth fell back to -5 with missed par putts at 4 and 5. He birdied 6 with a fine approach to about 18 feet and canned the putt, but then bogeyed 7, bogeyed 9 when his par-saver slid right, and bogeyed 11 when his tee-shot got stuck in the long fescue on the right side of the large hummock in the fairway.
At 12, Spieth drove the green, but the ball rolled back so far that he had a 44-yard putt for eagle. He coaxed it up to about 13 feet for birdie, but sent that three feet past. Spieth walked away with par — visibly frustrated. At 14, Spieth's excellent approach belligerently rolled through the green and down the slope. His uphill putt rolled straight over the edge of the hole to 11 feet away; Spieth deserved the par-saving putt that fell.
At 15, Spieth's tee shot rolled right past the flagstick, scooted back down, and cozied right next to Patrick Reed's. Both men sank their birdie putts.
After the missed putts, crazily-rolling approach shots, and nuked greens, four players are tied for the lead at -4: Jason Day, Dustin Johnson, Branden Grace, and Jordan Spieth.
Another four are tied for fifth place at -1: South African Louis Oosthuizen, Australian Cameron Smith, Irishman Shane Lowry, and American J.B. Holmes. Everybody else is at +1 or higher.
Spieth briefly discussed the idea of playing the 18th on Sunday by hitting into the fairway of the 1st hole. This writer predicts that Davis and the USGA will have out-of-bounds stakes installed between the two fairways, in order to scuttle that idea.
Fox Sports deserves credit for bringing in Shane O'Donoghue to be their lead golf announcer on Friday and earlier on Saturday. Joe Buck still needs some seasoning as a play-by-play golf announcer, especially by injecting some variety into the volume and pitch of his voice. But O'Donoghue struck the right chord so many times that this writer wonders if the likable and listenable Irishman will eventually be tagged as the permanent Fox Sports lead golf announcer. Buck and Curt Menefee could eventually share or split "studio host" duties, if needed.
The annoying audio dropouts that plagued Friday's telecast seem to have been solved by Saturday, although they still occurred from time to time.
C.S.I. Chambers BayIn providing some insight into the catastrophic condition of the greens at Chambers Bay, Sergio Garcia gave this interview to Fox Sports' Holly Sonders:
Rory McIlroy described the greens at 7 and 13 as "perfect," but acknowledged that other greens were growing at different speeds. He hinted that putting on some of them was like putting on broccoli or cauliflower.
On Golf Channel, Brandel Chamblee talked about how superintendents at Friar's Head on Long Island were able to eradicate the poa annua with chemical treatment and have beautiful greens with a bent and fescue seed combination. The same could conceivably happen at Chambers Bay. But because of several factors, including the USGA's decision to only syringe the greens instead of really watering them, dumb luck clearly has played a role in the fate of some players at this U.S. Open. And that is a shame.
This writer can only imagine the carnage that will occur at the 18th hole on Sunday when USGA boss Mike Davis turns it from the par-5 that it is, into a par-4.
The only question is, who will be fortunate and/or lucky enough to survive and hold the trophy tomorrow evening?
Image via FoxSports.com
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