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In U.S. Open, Torrey glory is up for grabs after three rounds

Bryson DeChambeau looks on at the fourth hole during the third round of the U.S. Open on June 19, 2021.
Bryson DeChambeau looks on during the third round of the U.S. Open. The defending champion shot a three-under 68 and is at three under, two strokes behind the leaders.
(K.C. Alfred / San Diego Union-Tribune)

Bryson DeChambeau opened defense of his U.S. Open title with a two-over-par 73 on Thursday at Torrey Pines South. He finished his round about 6:30 p.m. Headed straight for the practice range.

The sun went down shortly before 8. He was still there.

They turned out the lights. He was still there.

9:15 p.m. and pitch black … still there.

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“I couldn’t see very well,” DeChambeau said. “And it obviously being very dark, they shut the lights off, which is fine. I’ve hit golf balls in the dark plenty of times. But at a certain point, I was getting so frustrated with myself. I was just trying a bunch of different things, and I just got fed up with it and I said, ‘Let’s go.’ ”

Matthew Wolff is in contention to win the U.S. Open on Sunday, but the 22-year-old is trying to manage the pressure that comes with being in the spotlight.

He got something to eat and went to bed. And then woke up in a daze — he’s not sure what time — with an epiphany: Keep his right wrist bent a tad longer through impact.

It seems to be working. DeChambeau followed Friday’s 69 with a 68 — his first bogey-free round at a major championship — to move within two shots of the lead entering Sunday’s final 18 holes.

Saturday is called “Moving Day” at majors, and DeChambeau wasn’t the only one to figure something out. Also lugging boxes across the bluffs above the Pacific Ocean was Canadian Mackenzie Hughes, whose 68 put him in a three-way tie for first at five under with Louis Oosthuizen and 36-hole leader Russell Henley.

Mackenzie Hughes tees off on No. 16 during the third round of the U.S. Open.
Mackenzie Hughes tees off on No. 16 on Saturday. The Canadian shot a three-under 68 and is tied for the lead at five under.
(K.C. Alfred/ San Diego Union-Tribune)

Rory McIlroy fired a 67 despite hooking his drive at No. 15 into the canyon not far from a rattlesnake. He’s also at three under.

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson had a 68 to get him to one under after being in danger of missing the cut with a string of four straight bogeys Friday.

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It makes for a delectable Sunday at Torrey Pines — three guys at the top who entered the week between 50-1 and 290-1 longshots to win … and a glut of big names with major championship pedigrees looming in the rearview mirror.

“This is a real golf course,” Johnson said. “It’s tough, it’s long, it’s everything you want. A lot of times when you have that, you’re going to see a lot of really good players [near] the top of the leaderboard.”

They’ve all been here before. So has Oosthuizen, who drained a twisting, downhill, 50-foot eagle putt at 18. He won the 2010 British Open at St. Andrews and has finished second in the three other majors.

Louis Oosthuizen reacts after making a long eagle putt on No. 18 on June 19, 2021.
Louis Oosthuizen reacts after making a 50-foot eagle putt on No. 18. He’s among three tied for the lead entering Sunday.
(Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

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The bigger question, though, is what happens to those who haven’t.

Hughes, ranked 67th in the world, has one PGA Tour win (in 2016 after prevailing in a five-man playoff) and has missed cuts in six of his previous eight majors appearances. The others? Tied for 40th and tied for 58th.

“You get goosebumps thinking about it, so I know I’m going to be nervous tomorrow,” Hughes said of playing in the final group on Sunday at the U.S. Open. “I’ve had pizza the last two nights, so I’m probably going to have pizza again tonight. There’s probably a strong chance I’ll eat pizza. I’m not that superstitious, but I’m a little superstitious.”

He can’t lean on family to relax him. They didn’t make the trip because of Canadian travel restrictions during the pandemic.

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Henley has a similarly dismal record in majors and hadn’t played the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines since 2014, when he shot a 77 on the South Course, missed the cut and vowed never to return. Except a month later, the U.S. Golf Assn. announced Torrey would host the U.S. Open in 2021.

Russell Henley pumps his fist after sinking a putt on No. 18 during the third round of the U.S. Open.
Russell Henley pumps his fist after sinking a par putt on No. 18. He shot an even-par 71 and is tied for the lead.
(Jae C. Hong / Associated Press)

He led after the first round … and the second round … and now the third round thanks to a hole-out from the sand at 11 and some shaky par saves. His co-leader after the second round, 48-year-old Englishman Richard Bland, was less fortunate, finding the water on 18 and shooting a 77.

“Yeah, tied for the lead going into the last day of a major, you never know,” Henley said. “I’m 32. I don’t know how many more good years of golf I have left, but hopefully a lot. I’m just excited, I’m excited. You always wonder what it would feel like to be in contention.”

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Also in contention at one under is Xander Schauffele, who was born a few miles from the course, played high school matches here and has been dreaming of this tournament since its 2014 announcement.

“For the most part, just wasn’t able to make too many putts, the ones I needed to keep my round going or start my round,” Schauffele said. “It would have been nice to brush that one in on 18 [for birdie] being five feet or so.”

With a gliderport next to golf course, paragliders can spend hours hovering at U.S. Open. “The gliders are part of the landscape,” says Rory McIlroy.

Torrey Pines wasn’t playing especially tough Saturday, with some tees moved up. That could change Sunday.

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“If they make it hard and tuck pins,” DeChambeau said, “it’s going to be a very difficult championship. It’s going to be hold on to your horses. If they make some of the pins accessible and move the tees up like they did today, you’re going to have to go at it.”


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