Justin Thomas lights up the US Open – but Brian Harman leads the way heading into the final round.
Dan Murphy, Alex Perry, Steve Carroll and James Broadhurst round up the best of moving day at Erin Hills…
So what happened?
Justin Thomas. That’s what happened.
The 24-year-old broke all manner of records but one stands out: no man had ever before shot -9 in a round of the US Open before. He was brilliant all day long but the four successive threes to finish was something else. It began with a 3-wood into the short par-4 15th to six feet. A par 3 at the 16th was followed by a birdie on the hardest hole on the course and then that grandstand finish and a closing eagle. Having started the day five shots behind he vaulted to the top of the leaderboard.
Now, all he has to do is finish the job off.
By the end of the day, though, his 11-under-par total had been overhauled by an unlikely 54-hole leader in Brian Harman.
No left-hander has ever won the US Open, though Phil Mickelson has of course come close, finishing second on six occasions. What price Harman going one better in Mickelson’s absence this week? He played beautifully in the third round, and was seemingly never out of position.
For 17 holes, much the same could be said for England’s Tommy Fleetwood, who played more like a veteran than a 26-year-old in only his second US Open.
Playing alongside the similarly impressive Brooks Koepka, the pair laughed and joked their way around Erin Hills, in between times treating the galleries to an exhibition of both power and finesse.
He was on course for a bogey-free round until needing three attempts – two pitches and a putt – to get his ball on to the final green. In the end, he did very well to make six and get in at -11.
Fleetwood, from Southport, was supposed to be a factor in another major this season, namely next month’s Open at Royal Birkdale. He might yet arrive for his homecoming as the US Open champion.
Fittingly, Koepka finished alongside him – and Thomas – while Rickie Fowler, the first round leader, remains in the hunt after a late rally. Three successive birdies from the 13th left him two shots behind.
The Players champion Si-Woo Kim is a shot further back with Patrick Reed the most eye-catching name in the group at -8.
You could make a case for at least another dozen behind them – setting us up for an intriguing last day, even with the absence of the likes of McIlroy, Johnson, Spieth et al.
Feel-good moment of the day
Watching JT rip it up all day long. But specifically, THAT eagle at the last. What a display of controlled power, pure ball-striking and fearless aggression.
Spare a thought for…
Poor old Paul Casey. It was all so predictable. Having spent the first two days looking like a million dollars, he held a share of the halfway lead. And he opened up on Saturday with a birdie four. That was as good as it got though. A treble-bogey seven on the 3rd shattered the spell and from then on it was all a struggle. The wait for the Englishman, who is ranked No 14 in the world, to add to his solitary PGA Tour title to date looks set to continue for at least another week. For the record, that was the 2009 Shell Houston Open. In a play-off. Against JB Holmes.
Best Justin Thomas shots of the day
Apologies to the rest of the field but this category is a one-man show. Let’s start with a very creative putt…
Off the green ✅
Putting while not facing the hole ✅
Third birdie of the day ✅
— U.S. Open (USGA) (@usopengolf) June 17, 2017
It’s all good and well being a bomber, but getting it done with the flatstick is where you make your money.
Now if only there was a saying for that…
Later on in the day, Thomas threatened to steal his own award.
‘”Be as good as you look,” was the plea as his 3-wood tee shot sailed towards the green on the 288-yard par-4 15th. It pitched a matter of feet away from the hole, rolled up the slope at the back of the green then trickled back to six feet. Unfortunately, he missed the putt.
And then there was the 3-wood into the last…
— The European Tour (@EuropeanTour) June 17, 2017
…to set up that closing eagle.
— The European Tour (@EuropeanTour) June 17, 2017
Worst shot of the day
Sorry Paul, but that long-iron into the 3rd really did ruin your day, week and perhaps even season. Fanned right, it resulted in a visit to the really long stuff, a long conversation with a rules official and an air shot and a hack and, ultimately, a treble-bogey seven.
Justin Thomas’s stats of the day
Here we go again. The 24-year-old from Kentucky carded nine (NINE) birdies and that eagle, alongside a bogey on either nine. That leaves a meagre six pars.
For the record, he found 11 of 14 fairways and 14 greens in regulation. His average, yes average, driving distance was over 322 yards and he needed just 25 putts.
It all added up to 63, tying the record low score in major history. It was the fifth 63 in US Open history. It is the round that is the most under par in US Open history.
Photo of the day
Oh look, it’s Justin Thomas again, just waiting for it to be his turn again after smashing a 3-wood on to a green from 300 yards. Like you do.
He’s not going to win this award very often so we’re sure Patrick Reed will treasure it. These are his special Ryder Cup trousers, with the red shirt and white belt completing a patriotic outfit. More on this in All the Gear.
The golf was pretty good too – a tidy 65 vaulting our favourite pantomime villain into contention.
Got dressed in the dark
It wasn’t so much that Brian Harman and Paul Casey got dressed in the dark, more that they evidently didn’t consult when laying out their day three outfits.
The left-hander/right-hander combo only added to the mirror image effect.
Quote of the day
“Oh gosh, Jimmy. Be good.” – Justin Thomas to his caddie, Jimmy Johnson, as his 3-wood second shot into the 667-yard 18th tore through the Wisconsin air. It landed on the apron of the green and hopped up to six feet.
If this was based purely on PGA Tour final-round averages, we’re looking at a shoot-out between Justin Thomas (tied fourth) and Brian Harman (ninth).
I’m wary of backing Thomas at 4/1 immediately after such a defining round.
It’s going to be hard for him to get straight back to business and, without even adding the pressure of final day contention, how many players do we see falter somewhat after going so low?
It’ll be interesting to see how Harman copes in the cauldron. He’s proved he can win big on the PGA Tour, but this is another level entirely. At a general 5/1, you are not getting much bang for your buck.
I’m not quite ready to give up on Rickie Fowler (4/1). There was a lot to like about the finish of his 68 and, in four of his seven wins, he has come from off the pace on Sunday.
Brooks Koepka is still being underestimated by the betting experts at 7/1 while, at the bigger prices, Patrick Reed may still have a role to play at 25s following his moving day round of 65.