Major champions chase unlikely co-leaders at US Open

Erik van Rooyen of South Africa lines up a putt on the 15th green. — AFP
Erik van Rooyen of South Africa lines up a putt on the 15th green. — AFP

San Diego - The world number 115, who made only his second cut in a major, missed the 2009 cut at Bethpage Black in his only prior US Open



By AFP

Published: Sat 19 Jun 2021, 7:49 PM

Golfing journeymen Richard Bland and Russell Henley, shock midway co-leaders at the US Open, were set for the biggest rounds of their careers Saturday at Torrey Pines.

Third-round play began at the oceanside layout with England’s Bland, trying to become the oldest US Open champion at 48, and Henley, never a top-10 finisher in 26 major starts, in the final pairing on five-under par 137.

Henley, who hasn’t won a US PGA event in four years, and Bland, playing in only his fourth major and second US event, showed no sign of worry even with six major winners lurking within five shots.

“Intimidating? I don’t know. I’ve never played this well in a US Open,” Henley said. “I feel good about my game. I’ve never been in this position before in a major.”

Bland won his first European Tour title at last month’s British Masters after 478 starts over 25 years, becoming the tour’s oldest first-time winner.

The world number 115, who made only his second cut in a major, missed the 2009 cut at Bethpage Black in his only prior US Open.

Bland is chasing the US Open winner’s age mark set by Hale Irwin, who was 45 when he won at Medinah in 1990.

“I want to give the gym-goers a run for their money,” Bland said. “To lead a major is always pretty special. I tied the lead at the (British) Open in 2017 for a hole, so it’s nice to have it a bit longer than that.”

South African Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 British Open winner with five other major runner-up efforts since his win at St. Andrews, was a stroke back alongside 22-year-old American Matthew Wolff, last year’s US Open runner-up returning from a two-month mental health break.

The only other major winner among 12 players under par was two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson, who shared fifth on 139 with world number three Jon Rahm of Spain.

Rahm spent most of last week in quarantine after contracting Covid-19 and being forced to withdraw from the US PGA Memorial after seizing a six-shot lead throiugh 54 holes.

Among a pack who entered the weekend on level par 142 were defending champion Bryson DeChambeau, four-time major winner Brooks Koepka, 2020 PGA Championship winner Collin Morikawa and world number two Justin Thomas, the 2017 PGA winner.

Four-time major champion Rory McIlroy, seeking his first major win since 2014, was another stroke back with top-ranked Dustin Johnson seven behind the leaders after 36 holes.

Thomas and Rahm could overtake Johnson for world number one with a victory.

Six-time major winner and hometown star Phil Mickelson, who turned 51 on Wednesday, hoped for a morning charge in his quest for an elusive US Open victory to complete a career Grand Slam.

Mickelson became the oldest major champion in golf history last month by winning the PGA Championship at Kiawah Island.

But the left-hander has finished second at the US Open a record six times and began the third round on 144, seven strokes adrift of the lead.

“I’m playing well enough to make a run on the weekend,” Mickelson said. “Feel like I’m playing good enough to make a run at it.”

Mickelson could become the sixth man to complete the career Grand Slam after Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Ben Hogan, Gene Sarazen and Gary Player.


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