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Live from the SBS Tournament of Champions: 8 Keys from Saturday Night

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1. The second-round leaders seemed to go a little quiet as clouds briefly rolled in at lunchtime Saturday. That allowed William McGirt to charge toward the top with a 7-under par 66 with his second straight bogey-free round. It brought McGirt to 14-under, tying him with Jimmy Walker and Ryan Moore for third place.

Since 2011, McGirt has played 175 Tour events. Last season earned his first win on the PGA Tour at the Memorial Tournament made the cut in all 28 of his tournaments. This season he has played two events, missing the cut at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open and finishing T27 at the RSM Classic.

At of the conclusion of round three in Kapalua, McGirt was ranked first in greens in regulation, T1 in driving accuracy, T2 in bogey-avoidance, and third in shots gained- approach to the green. His solid play has “kind of surprised him,” he told the press post-round, “because I haven’t played much at all” since The Tour Championship. “Kind of had to make my own off-season, since we don’t get one anymore.”

2. Jordan Spieth called one his Friday tee shots “as bad a shot as I’ll hit this year.” Ryan Moore might have a similarly damning assessment of the way he played the par-5 ninth on Saturday. Through the first two rounds the hole was the second easiest on the Plantation course, playing to a 4.484 average. And Moore, who was co-leader when he arrived at nine, made one of the two Saturday bogeys there.

He’d missed the green with his second, coming up about 35 yards short left. He then misplayed his pitch shot so badly that the ball fed right back off the sloping green and finished just about the same distance from the cup as when it had started. On in four, Moore made a two-putt bogey from 16 feet.

Spieth, by the way, recorded Saturday’s lone eagle at nine.

3. Meanwhile, Moore’s playing partner, Justin Thomas, left the ninth green with choice things of his own to say, apparently: his right hand was pointedly cupped over his mouth as though to be certain of depriving viewers of a juicy lip-reading opportunity. Thomas’ annoyance would have stemmed from his taking three to get down with putter from 40 feet on the edge of the green’s front fringe.

4. In his post-round press conference, Thomas, whose longest drive so far this week is 404 yards, was asked if he understood the physics of the power in his swing.

“I have no clue,” he quickly admitted, before adding an insight into his choice of on-course footwear. “I’ve been told I use the ground well. The fact that I’m probably almost in the air when I make contact probably doesn’t hurt anything. Kind of why I wear metal spikes, because I need all the support I can get to not flip.”

5. Patrick Reed was tied for the lead as he made the turn Saturday, then faded to seventh with a 2-over 39 on the back. Tied for second in number of birdies this week (18), Reed is T17 when it comes to bogey-avoidance and a surprising 28th in shots gained/approach to green.

6. By noon Saturday the chatter in the media center was predicting a Sunday evening playoff.

It’s a pretty common scenario on the Tour, as the 32-man SBS Tournament of Champions field demonstrates: on hand this week thanks to playoff victories are: Aaron Baddeley (Barbasol Classic); Jason Dufner (CareerBuilder Challenge); Tony Finau (Puerto Rico Open); Fabian Gomez (Sony Open); James Hahn (Wells Fargo Championship); Mackenzie Hughes (RSM Classic); William McGirt (Memorial Tournament); and Brian Stuard (the rain-abbreviated Zurich Classic).

On the other hand, three in the field lost a playoff but won another event: Brandt Snedeker lost the Sony Open, won the Farmers Insurance Open; Si Woo Kim lost the Barbasol Classic, won the Wyndham Championship; and Ryan Moore lost the Tour Championship, won the John Deere Classic.

Hideki Matsuyama beat Rickie Fowler in a playoff at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, but Matsuyama also won WGC-HSBC Champions and the Hero World Challenge.

Finally, three playoff victors chose not to participate this week with their fellow champions: Sergio Garcia, who beat Brooks Koepka at the AT&T Byron Nelson; Rory McIlroy, who won the Tour Championship in a playoff over Kevin Chappell and Ryan Moore; and Charl Schwartzel, who beat Bill Haas at the Valspar Championship.

7. Barbasol champ Baddeley struggled Saturday, posting the sole over-par round: a plus-one 74, which left him at 2-under and in 28th place. Going into Sunday, the entire field is in red numbers save for Billy Hurley III at even par.

8. Hideki Matsuyama is the hottest player on the planet, with four wins in his last five starts worldwide. His 7-under 66 on Saturday put him alone in second at 16-under and two shots behind Justin Thomas, and he’s been a favorite to win the SBS Tournament of Champions right from the get-go. But there’s a different sort of reason to think he’s on his way to the winner’s circle Sunday. He seems to tirelessly stalk the steep climbs of The Plantation Course like nobody else in the field. The 5-foot 11-inch and 200-pound fourth-year Tour pro, who turns 25 next month, has routinely been marching up and down these imposing fairways dozens of yards ahead of his playing partners, their caddies, and the rest of the entourage that accompanies each pairing.

So perhaps there’s an edge, in course-striding stamina, that may prove as telling for Matsuyama during the climbs of the final round as that singular ball-striking skill of his.

Matsuyama, incidentally, leads the field as of Saturday evening in number of birdies, with 19. He is also now a combined 59-under in his last 198 holes, and has shot in the 60s in each of his last 13 Tour rounds. And for good measure he was the last man out on the practice putting green as the Saturday sun set, working on his chipping.

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Thomas Meagher is a Pushcart Prize-winning writer who learned the game on the East Coast and now plays the desert courses of the West. He writes on golf and books and whatever else at MeglerOnTee.com.

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5 things we learned on Sunday of the 2018 U.S. Open

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Opportunity knocked for so many golfers, yet it was the 2017 champion who seized the moment when it was his. Brooks Koepka fired his second sub-par round of the week on Sunday to separate from playing partner Dustin Johnson, and enter the pantheon of multiple major champions. He became the 7th player to defend his title, joining old-school legends like Willie Anderson and John McDermott, mid-century icons like Ralph Guldahl and Ben Hogan, and the last man to accomplish the feat, Curtis Strange. With that introduction, let’s move to the main event, the 5 things we learned on Sunday at Shinnecock Hills.

5) The USGA gave golf a chance

True to its word, the USGA pulled out all the stops in the wee hours of Sunday morn. The course set-up team ensured that enough water was distributed to putting surfaces, that worthy shots would not be punished. Hole locations were assessed and confirmed, also ensuring that multiple opportunities for success were available. As a result, 15 golfers turned in scores under par of 70, highlighted by Tommy Fleetwood’s 7-under stunner. Although many fans, writers and players were quick to assault the organizers for losing control of the course, the USGA reminded us that it always had control of the conditions at Shinny, and that its only mistake was to soar too close to the sun.

4) Captain America ran out of gas

If Patrick Reed had been able to sign his card on the 9th tee, when he stood 5-under on the day and 1-over for the tournament, he would be in a playoff with the eventual champion as I type. Unfortunate for this year’s Masters champion was that 10 holes remained. Reed promptly bogeyed the 9th, added 3 more bogeys on the inward half, and summoned just one birdie toward the end. His fourth-place finish was his best in a U.S. Open, but knowing that victory was in the cards will sting for a while.

3) DJ and Finau gave it a run

Where to begin? How about this: DJ had four bogeys on Sunday. He totaled that many on Thursday-Friday combined. He had birdies, too, but couldn’t find the game that possessed him over the opening 36 holes. Oddly enough, this type of experience won’t be a setback for the 2016 champion. After all, he came back from a career-killer in 2015, when he 3-whacked his way out of a playoff with Jordan Spieth at Chambers Bay. As for Milton Pouhau Finau, aka Tony, the Utah native had never before been in the final group on any day of a major professional championship. He acquitted himself well, standing even on the day and 3-over for T2 at the 18th tee. Knowing that he needed eagle for a playoff might have taken the final winds from his sails, and he limped home with double bogey and solo third. Looking ahead to the final August playing of the PGA Championship, Bellerive near St. Louis might just be his type of course.

2) Tom Terrific nearly made his own U.S. Open history

I’ll write this cautiously, as I’m certain I would have intimated in the 1980s and 90s that Colin Montgomerie and Lee Westwood would have been major champions by now. Tommy Fleetwood ought to win one of these things soon. His record-tying 63 was a short putt away from a record-breaking 62. Eight birdies against a single bogey was the stuff of legend, and if only he had trusted that final putt a bit higher on the break … that’s not fair. Fleetwood right now is the fellow to watch at Carnoustie next month. Bet a few quid or bob or whatever on the Southport native, as he should contend for the title.

1) Brooks cooks up a winning broth

It’s easy to look back and see all the great shots that the defending champion hit over the four days of the 2018 U.S. Open, shots that would win him his second consecutive trophy. Remember that 60-feet bomb to save par on Saturday? Shades of Costantino Rocca. How about the approach shots to within mere feet that earned him 5 birdies on Sunday, including a competition-killer on 16? Koepka was the guy we thought Dustin Johnson would be. Perhaps it was the time off for wrist rehabilitation early this season that gave him the burning desire to win. Out for nearly 4 months, Koepka had plenty of time to ponder what he achieved last June in Wisconsin, and what might lay ahead for him. The begged question is, does the most recent, two-time major winner have the game to acquire more of the game’s cherished trophies?

Related: Brooks Koepka’s Winning WITB from the 2018 U.S. Open

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Wednesday’s Photos from the 2018 U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills

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GolfWRX is live from the 2018 U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club (par 70; 7,440 yards) in Southhampton, New York. The U.S. Open returns to Shinnecock for the first time since 2004 when Retief Goosen won (he failed to qualify for the 2018 event).

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Phil Mickelson, who has two top-5 finishes at Shinnecock Hills, will seek to fill out his career Grand Slam with a win this week. Also, it’s Tiger Woods’ 10-year anniversary of winning the legendary 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines — that was his most recent major championship victory.

Also in the field are headliners Dustin Johnson (now ranked No. 1 in the Official World Golf Rankings), Justin Thomas (No. 2), Justin Rose (No. 3), Jon Rahm (No. 4) and Jordan Spieth (No. 5).

Brooks Koepka (No. 9) is the defending champion; he won last year by four shots for his first and only major so far in his career.

Check out our photos from Shinnecock Hills below!

Wednesday’s Galleries

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Discussion: See what GolfWRX members are saying about the photos in our forums

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Spotted at Shinnecock: #RVLife, superb staff bags, stellar stampings

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We’re on the famed grounds of Shinnecock Hills Golf Club for the second major of the year. With the U.S. Open returned to such a visually and historically rich venue, it may be a bit tough to focus on equipment.

Nevertheless, we spotted some cool stuff, Tuesday, as the players move ever closer to the second major of th eyear.

Let’s get to the photos.

#RVLife propronent, Jason Day’s putter cover is incredible.

Michael Greller displays an essential caddie skill…

Face of Tiger’s wedge. Do these look like standard TaylorMade MG grooves to you?

Greatest side panel on a bag ever?

Who isn’t happy to see “Woods” on USGA tournament signage?

Shintaro Ban’s unique dot stamping is, well, money.

A look at the Bridgestone U.S. Open staff bag and headcovers.

Kenny Perry: Still gaming R7 irons.

Scott Gregory with some solid wedge stamping.

What is this lead taped and war torn beauty?

All our photos from Tuesday

Discussion: See what GolfWRX members are saying about the photos in our forums

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