SAN DIEGO – The Eagle’s putts looked familiar on a Saturday at Torrey Pines in June, even with Tiger Woods nowhere in sight.
Mackenzie Hughes watched his eagle putt 60 feet from the back of the green to the front on the 13th par 5 slide into the cut. Louis Oosthuizen could only hope that his 50-foot eagle putt on the 18th would find the center of the cut, and he kissed the pin and was gone.
Woods putted eagle across the green on the 13th and 18th holes in 2008, which set the stage for an anticipatory Sunday.
Suddenly this US Open has this familiar feel.
A major who for two days had the sleepy, cold San Diego vibe now has an emergency for Oosthuizen and Rory McIlroy trying to end the long droughts, hope for newcomers like Hughes and Russell Henley, and a half a dozen other possibilities that include Bryson DeChambeau and Jon Rahm.
“This is a golf course where anything can happen,” said Oosthuizen, in the major mix for the second time in a row. “It’s just a tough, old-fashioned golf course. You’ll never have it. You’re going to feel it. It depends on how you’re going to handle it.”
Hughes added a final birdie for a 68 under 3 and was the first to reach 208 under 5. Oosthuizen birdie putt 30 feet on the 16th and finished his round of 70 with the eagle. 50 feet on the 18th or join it.
They were tied with Henley, who had a 2-stroke lead at the start of the last nine and seemed to be hanging on for life at the end. He went from bunker to rough to bunker on Torrey Pines’ easiest hole and had to put an 8 foot putt for a 71.
McIlroy (67) and DeChambeau (68) were 2 strokes behind.
McIlroy went seven years without a major, a drought made worse by rarely even having a decent chance. DeChambeau can have the final say with Brooks Koepka by joining him as a back-to-back US Open champion.
“I thought two 68s over the weekend I was from after Friday were going to have a good chance,” said McIlroy, who started the third round with 6 strokes behind. “I did the first part of that job. Now it’s my turn to go out tomorrow and try to play a similar round of golf.”
Woods is recovering from his February car crash that left his legs severely injured and is not returning to Torrey Pines. In his absence, the show took every opportunity to relive the memories of his two eagles which gave him the lead over 54 holes.
It took two players to do it this time around, but it was just as spectacular.
“I know Tiger was more to the right, but halfway through I loved it,” Hughes said. “The charge that goes through your body as the ball enters the hole and the crowd erupts is the reason we play. It gives me goosebumps now to think about it.”
And he’ll have a lot of nerves on Sunday playing in the final group with Oosthuizen, who has finished five second in the majors – two in the playoffs – since winning the 2010 British Open in St. Andrews.
Henley landed a bunker shot on the 11th par 3 for a birdie for a 2-stroke lead and made an excellent cabbage save behind the 12th green. But he has shown signs of cracking over the past hour, dropping shots on the 15th and having to escape with the No.18 par.
Thirteen players remained below par before the final round. Eight players were separated by 3 shots on a difficult course that might not be as accessible as on Saturday, when the three par 5s were set up to be accessible in 2.
McIlroy did his best to save bogey. He made three birdies in four holes to start the last nine, only to take his tee shot into a ravine. He took a penalty instead of going into the ravine – a smart move considering TV showed a large rattlesnake in the area – and limited the damage to a scarecrow.
A birdie on the 18th for a 67, tying the lowest score of the week, gave him a chance to win a major for the first time since the 2014 PGA Championship.
“This is the only tournament in the world where you shoot a bogey,” said McIlroy. “Just losing one was a big deal, and getting him up and down the bunker on the 16th and birdie on the 18th just to get that shot I lost, really big.”
DeChambeau also played big, going with a driver all over the place and missing some fairways by such a wide margin he had good lies in the grass trampled by fans.
This led to his first time in 67 rounds in majors without a bogey on his card, and his 68 gave him a chance to join Koepka and Curtis Strange as the only back-to-back Open winners in the past 50 years. .
“You have to be very patient here in these major tournaments,” said DeChambeau. “It’s something that’s not easy to do. I feel like I’m starting to understand major championship golf and how to play it and how to handle my game, my attitude and just my level of patience. If I can keep doing it until tomorrow, I think I’ll have a good chance. “
Koepka, meanwhile, was among those who lost a good opportunity. He shot 71 and was only 5 shots behind, but with 13 players in front of him.
Rahm, slowed down by a double bogey on No 14 and not enough birdies, had a 72 and was in the group at 2 under 211 with Scottie Scheffler (70) and Matthew Wolff (73).
Dustin Johnson shot a 68 and was among those within 212, 4 strokes behind and very in play in this major and on this golf course.