After a sun-cooked, wind-whipped day that strained the greens and stressed the players in the third-round of the 118th U.S. Open, everyone was talking about the course conditions. Not everyone was saying nice things. “Unfortunately, they lost the golf course,” Zach Johnson said. But Shinnecock isn’t lost. It will be right there on Sunday. And someone’s gotta win. Having surveyed the bunched-up leaderboard, we’ve drawn up a list of the eight most exciting ways this U.S. Open could end.
8. THAI GOES TO THE WINNER
Only three players carved out scores in the 60s on Saturday, and one of them was Thailand’s Kiradech Aphibarnrat, whose over-the-belt belly makes him an outlier on today’s hyper-aerobicized PGA Tour. If Aphibarnat posts a number and Shinnecock wreaks havoc on the leaders once again, the Bangkok Bomber could become the first male Thai player to nab a major, and that would be supremely entertaining. Plus, it would be good fun to listen to Joe Buck try to pronounce his name.
7. HALFWAY TO THE GRAND SLAM
Only one golfer has a chance to sweep the majors this year, and after the carnage of Saturday afternoon at Shinnecock, Patrick Reed is right back in the mix. A win for Reed wouldn’t just give him his second straight major, it would bolster his formerly scoffed at contention that he ranks among the five best players in the world. Oh, and next month at Carnoustie would get even more interesting.
6. A TONY AWARD
Is there a more endearing player than Tony Finau, a tower of power of Tongan descent who is, in every way, the very opposite of the pampered modern Tour pro? Anyone who wasn’t already a Finau fan had to have been won over by his showing at Augusta, where he wrecked his ankle during a par-3 contest celebration then went on to finish tied for 10th. A wild Saturday at Shinnecock has put Finau in the final group on Sunday, the closest he’s been yet to winning his first major. If he can put his best foot forward, he would make the perfect people’s champ.
5. A ROSE IS A ROSE IS A TWO-TIME U.S. OPEN CHAMP?
Known as one of the best iron players in the game, Justin Rose was wayward with his approach shots Saturday, hitting only six of 18 greens. And yet by leaning heavily on his wedge and putter, he held his round together and he’s just one off the lead. Rose won the ’13 U.S. Open at Merion with Hogan-esque ball-striking. Now he has a chance to win by scrambling like Seve. That would be a thrilling way to show the full range of his skills.
4. SWEDE VICTORY
An awe-inspiring ball-striker, Henrik Stenson doesn’t seem to be getting any shorter. But at 42, he’s also not getting any younger. It took him until age 40 to win his first major and finally shed the label of best player to never have done so. He’ll only have so many chances to avoid being regarded as the best player to have never won two.
3. ONE FOR THE AGES
At the 1968 PGA Championship, 48-year-old Julius Boros became the oldest man to ever win a major, setting a record that still stands today. Jim Furyk, who marked his 48th birthday in May, is three months older than Boros was back then, so he can’t beat ol’ Julius in the age department. But a sizzling run to victory at Shinnecock (he’s only three shots out of the lead!) would make a timeless story, don’t you think?
2. DUSTIN IN THE WIND
Do you give a whiff about the World Golf Ranking? Probably not. More important is the fact that Dustin Johnson, the world’s top-ranked player and the most explosive golfer on the planet, is in fine position to power his way to his second U.S. Open title. That would be exciting, so much so that the un-emotive DJ might even let us know.
1. THE DEFENDING CHAMP
Thirty years ago, Curtis Strange won the first of two consecutive U.S. Opens. His back-to-back feat has not been repeated since. Brooks Koepka, who won last year at Erin Hills, has a chance to copy Curtis. He’ll be playing Sunday with Dustin Johnson, his friend and fellow gym rat. We’re expecting pyrotechnics from this pairing, and if Koepka triumphs, here’s hoping Strange gets first crack at the post-round interview.