DeChambeau (67) surges into 54-hole lead at Pinehurst

Much like how Donald Ross’ inverted-saucer greens at Pinehurst Resort & Country Club’s Course No. 2 can repel golf shots, so went many of the third-round challengers at the 124th U.S. Open on a steamy Saturday in the Sandhills.

A day that began with 14 players within four strokes of Ludvig Åberg’s 36-hole lead ended with Bryson DeChambeau seizing a three-stroke advantage going into Sunday’s final round. The 2020 champion was only one of three players in the last five pairings to better par, using an impeccable display of shot-making — and putting in particular — to card a 3-under-par 67 for a 54-hole total of 7-under 203.

DeChambeau, the runner-up in last month’s PGA Championship, registered 11 one-putt greens as he distanced himself from 2011 champion Rory McIlroy, eight-time PGA Tour winner Patrick Cantlay, and up-and-coming Frenchman Matthieu Pavon, all of whom sit at 4-under 206.

Only Pavon, winner of the 2024 Farmers Insurance Open at two-time U.S. Open venue Torrey Pines, and McIlroy, who is seeking to end a 10-year major victory drought, broke par among those last groups, each shooting 69.

Temperatures on Saturday once again reached the 90s with weather warnings posted to tell players, fans and officials to stay hydrated.

Pavon will be paired with DeChambeau in Sunday’s final pairing, while Cantlay and McIlroy will be in the penultimate twosome. The chasers will look for some Sunday magic to catch the overpowering DeChambeau, who seems to be getting stronger with each tour around Pinehurst.

DeChambeau (67) surges into 54-hole lead in Pinehurst
Matthieu Pavon/Photo by Sandhills Sentinel photographer Cow McFarland

For U.S. Open rookie Åberg, the 24-year-old Swede who had led the field in fairways hit and greens in regulation through 36 holes, it was a difficult afternoon. A triple-bogey 7 on the 368-yard 13th — the same hole that saw contender Tony Finau also make a 7 — sent the world’s No. 6 player tumbling down the leader board. He still managed a 3-over 73 but now sits five strokes behind in his quest to become the first player since Francis Ouimet in 1913 to win the U.S. Open in his debut.

Finau got to 5 under for the day until his hiccup on 13 and shares seventh with England’s Tyrrell Hatton (even-par 70) after carding a 72.

It was another challenging day at Pinehurst in which the field scoring average was 73.2, just slightly behind the first-round number of 73.25.

DeChambeau, a 30-year-old native Northern Californian who lives in Grapevine, Texas, not far from where he played his collegiate golf at Southern Methodist University, led the field on Saturday with just 25 putts, was second in driving distance (344.1) and fourth in strokes gained off the tee (+1.66). Even a double-bogey 6 on the par-4 16th hole did little to sidetrack him as he followed by knocking his tee shot on the 180-yard 17th hole to 12 feet to set up his sixth birdie of the day. It was the kind of performance people saw from DeChambeau four years ago when he won this championship at Winged Foot Golf Club by six strokes and was the lone competitor to better par on what is considered one of the country’s most difficult layouts.

Now, he has a chance to become the second SMU graduate to win a U.S. Open at Pinehurst, joining the late Payne Stewart in 1999.

Endearing himself to the huge galleries that have flocked to Pinehurst this week, DeChambeau battled a nagging hip issue to give his supporters plenty to cheer about with an array of shot-making, from exquisite up-and-down pars on the first two holes to his approach shot from the native area on No. 14 to 6 feet. That’s the kind of year DeChambeau has had in majors. He contended into Sunday at the Masters before tying for sixth and then came up one stroke shy of Xander Schauffele at the PGA Championship in May, shooting 20 under par.

“It just gives me a spike in my adrenaline and allows me to focus more on delivering for the fans and for myself and for my family. It just inspires me,” said DeChambeau of hearing the roars and chants of “USA, USA!”

He added: “Just thinking back three years ago, the landscape [of professional golf] was a lot different. I tried to show everybody who I was. I didn’t do it the right way and could have done a lot of things better. I’m lucky enough to have a great team around me to help me move in the right direction with the content that we’re producing, social media, and then also just a great perspective on life. Those combinations of things have allowed me to not only have a new perspective but an opportunity to show myself in a different light and to entertain the fans out there on the golf course.”

On Sunday, he’ll carry the lead into a final round of a U.S. Open for the first time. In 2020, he trailed Matthew Wolff by two strokes, then bested the former Oklahoma State star by eight strokes on Sunday (67-75).

McIlroy once again is lurking on a major championship Sunday. A year ago, he finished a stroke back of Wyndham Clark at The Los Angeles Country Club. He had a golden shot at St. Andrews in 2022, only to shoot a final-round 70 to Cameron Smith’s 64 and finish solo third. He got to 6 under par for the championship on Sunday with a dart on No. 14 to 3 feet, but he failed to get up and down from greenside bunkers on 15 and 17 as DeChambeau was charging ahead.

DeChambeau (67) surges into 54-hole lead at Pinehurst NC
Rory McIlroy/Photo by Sandhills Sentinel Mary Anne Pfrogner

“No matter what happens, I feel like two shots, three shots, four shots, I’ve got a great chance going into tomorrow,” said McIlroy, who rallied on Sunday to win the Wells Fargo Championship this spring. “I love the test that Pinehurst is presenting, and you’ve got to focus and concentrate on every single shot out there. It’s what a U.S. Open should be like. It’s obviously great to be in the mix.”

Pavon and Cantlay both are seeking their first major titles, although many expected the latter to have one by now. He’s a two-time U.S. Ryder Cup performer who only has four top-10s in 29 major starts, with his best U.S. Open finish being a share of 14th in 2022 and ’23.

Pavon, who carded a 3-under 32 on Pinehurst’s outward nine before coming home in 37, has kept himself in contention with his consistency off the tee (11 of 14 fairways hit) and strokes-gained approach (+2.56 to rank third). But he’s in unchartered territory on Sunday, playing in the final group of a major.

“Nothing special. I just love golf,” said Pavon. “That’s the thing. I’m just so happy to compete here in America. It has been a remarkable journey for me.

“I just love competing here so much, and this is what I like people to know about me. I’m a pretty regular guy, and it’s just awesome to be here and having a chance to share the last round in a major in the last group with a guy like Bryson.”

Cantlay didn’t have the fireworks of DeChambeau or McIlroy on Saturday, but two birdies against two bogeys were good enough to keep the former UCLA All-American in contention. Can he put together a magical final round on Sunday to finally claim that elusive major title?

We’ll find out around 7 p.m. on Sunday.

Sunday’s final round will begin at 7:30 a.m. EDT, with the final pairing of Bryson DeChambeau and Matthieu Pavon going off at 2:21 p.m. Should there be a tie after 72 holes, a two-hole aggregate playoff on Nos. 17 and 18 would take place immediately following play. Broadcast coverage commences at 9 a.m. on USA Network and continues at noon on NBC.

Feature photo: Bryson DeChambeau-Photo by Sandhills Sentinel photographer Mary Anne Pfrogner.

~Written by David Shefter USGA.

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