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5 things we learned Saturday at the U.S. Women’s Open

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We learned that 2020 was as kind to the the golfers at Champions Golf Club, as it was to the rest of humanity. We learned that sadism still has a place on the tournament set-up committee of the USGA. We learned that there is little to no hope of the fourth round finishing on schedule on Sunday. All in all, December in Houston is proving to be little better than July in Houston, just the opposite end of the weather spectrum.

It was a rough go on Saturday for the world’s finest female golfers. Just two golfers broke par on the day, and it’s a certainty that the high-ringer score would be much more impactful than the low one. In fact, two holes (1 and 15) recorded zero birdies on the day. It’s almost humorous that Chella Choi had an ace at the 180-yard 12th. That there was even one moment of perfection on such a foul day, is little consolation.

We did learn five things on this Saturday of the 75th U.S. Women’s Open, and here they are.

1. Ji Yeong Kim2 posted a round for the ages

Four birdies. Zero bogies. Fourteen Pars. The only things that Ji Yeong Kim2 didn’t do on Saturday were win the tournament (that chance comes tomorrow) and birdie 1 or 15 (no one else did, either.) To make complete sense of her round, is impossible. To understand its value, consider that Kim started the day on the other side of the draw, the one that teed off on the back nine. At dawn, there were 33 golfers ahead of her. At dusk, only two. Kim2 is tied with Moriya Jutanugarn for 3rd place, two back of Amy Olson (second place) and three behind third-round leader Hinako Shibuno. Hae Ran Ryu was the only other golfer to shoot below par on Saturday, and she managed just one stroke below the dais.

2. How about them amateurs?

There are still three amateurs inside the top 15, a tremendous feat. One of them is not Linn Grant. For the second time in her young career, Grant entered the final 36 holes with a chance at victory. For the second time in her young career, Grand shot herself out of contention, with a woeful day-three showing. In complete contrast, Kaitlyn Papp maintained a semblance of composure, returning only three strokes to Old Lady Par. She rests in a tie for 5th, just four shots out of first. Sweden’s duo of Maja “House of” Stark and Ingrid Lindblad sit tied for 15th at +2. They won’t win on Sunday, but one of them could claim low amateur, should Papp falter.

3. Hinako Shibuno preserved her lead, just barely

Hinako Shibuno was unable to increase her three-shot advantage on Saturday. In fact, the Cypress Creek course took most of it back. Shibuno made three bogies and one birdie on day three, moving to four-deep, just one shot ahead of North Dakota’s Amy Olson, the day-one leader. After making 10 birdies over the first two days, Shibuno showed that she can hold on when the well dries up. Another 74 might be enough to win tomorrow. It would keep her under par for the week, but I don’t think that it will get the job done. Shibuno will have to be sharper to claim a second career major title.

4. The golf course got away again

It’s not Shinnecock Hills yet, but it might be by tomorrow. The sayers of the USGA had to have an idea that weather would play a role in the event. What were they thinking, that 1974 Winged Foot was a nice throwback? That bogey golf would keep viewer interest up in December? The USGA had an opportunity to showcase women’s golf at a time of year when it is an afterthought, and failed miserably. Let’s hope that the Olympic Club in 2021 offers a manageable set-up, or at least a plan B. After all, Olympic has a proven record of providing awkward event conclusions.

5. Prediction time

It’s a super-safe bet that Danielle Kang will not call me anytime soon to be her life coach. My unwavering support ends today, after Kang super-struggled to a 79. What I do know is this: there is no clear favorite to win on Sunday, but there are so many players for whom a victory would represent a lifetime achievement. There’s Lydia Ko, trying to regain her teenaged dominance. How about Moriya Jutanugarn, who would love to step clear of her sister’s long shadow? Amy Olson, for one, who has been here before and misfired, and would love to put those memories away in a closet. I’ll take Yealimi Noh for the win, however. Noh played well last week at the VOA, and will have enough good shots and putts left to hold on while the golfers around her falter.

 

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Ronald Montesano writes for GolfWRX.com from western New York. He dabbles in coaching golf and teaching Spanish, in addition to scribbling columns on all aspects of golf, from apparel to architecture, from equipment to travel. Follow Ronald on Twitter at @buffalogolfer.

4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Ethan

    Dec 13, 2020 at 1:24 am

    Questionable takes.

    4: The idea that golf should be showcased with -16 or more under par over four round courses or else its a failure is a sad idea of golf. The ability to overcome hard golf courses and post the lowest score should be celebrated.

    The men’s US Open this year was hyped up of people waiting to see people face a difficult course and for scores to be high. The LPGA and USGA should not be criticized differently.

    5: Kang is 1st in the CME race and 3rd on the money list year. Support should stay strong.

  2. Nick

    Dec 12, 2020 at 10:54 pm

    I don’t know if the course got away from them. Cypress is a long, hard golf course. The USGA does not play preferred lies, so everyone has to play the same course. I’m pretty sure Jackie Burke would tell the players to suck it up and go play.

    • Ronald Montesano

      Dec 15, 2020 at 11:09 pm

      I’m not certain that “preferred lies” has anything to do with everyone playing the same course. The rules of golf dislike LCP because there are no mud balls on sand-based courses. Golf on farmland is a different animal, so not playing LCP actually made Saturday more random and less like playing the same course. Does that make sense?

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Gure Txapelduna! Jon Rahm Rodriguez claims 2021 U.S. Open title

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The amateur statistician in me is overwhelmed by the fact that NO ONE shot lower than 67 on any given day, and that either 2, 3, or 4 golfers shot that number each day. The linguist in me is thrilled that Spain and the Basque Country have their first US Open champion. The human being in me continues to marvel at how professional golfers can put themselves through the agony of major-championship competition, knowing that the outcome is likely to be gut-wrenching and heart-rending. Professional sport is a fierce cauldron of emotion and exertion and unexpected brilliance. How else to explain the finishes of Harris English (third) and Guido Migliozzi (fourth) at Torrey Pines? They weren’t the story, however. They never should have been there, save for what was already alluded to above.

Jon Rahm played a near-perfect round of golf. He opened with birdies at one and two, and he closed with birdies at 17 and 18. In between, he traded a birdie and bogey and added 12 pars. The brilliant Basque hit eight fairways, and a massive 14 greens in regulation. Only Edoardo Molinari and Rikuya Hoshino were better on the day with approach play, and that was by one more GIR each. It was what the Spaniard did with his flat stick, that made the difference. Rahm putted brilliantly, taking 28 putts on the day. You might expect 28 putts from someone who hit 10 greens in regulation figures, but not from someone who ranked so high. In contrast, the aforementioned Hoshino (31 putts) and Molinari (34) putted more in line with a high GIR tally. Most importantly, Rahm stayed out of trouble.

That could not be said for the mercurial Bryson DeChambeau. After nine holes on Sunday, the defending champion looked to be in prime position to hoist the winner’s medal for a second consecutive year. Two of the tri-leaders (Hughes 77 for T15 and Henley 76 for T13) had fallen off the pace, and the third (Oosthuizen) was plodding along near par. Then came the inward half, and a grotesque tally of two bogeys, a double and a quad for the Californian nee Texan. DeChambeau drove the ball horribly, finding just three of the 14 fairways on the day. His putting was five higher than the eventual winner, and he simply lost his hold on his game. That’s the US Open; it turns the winds and the tide instantly against the sailor.

If a professional golfer were given the option of contending or not in major events, with no guarantee of victory, each golfer would accept the challenges and the inevitable heartbreak. Three of four men’s major championships have been completed this year, and Lodewicus Theodorus Oosthuizen has finished T26, T2 and 2 in them. Known to the world as Louis, Mr. Oosthuizen has much satisfaction and much frustration on this Sunday evening. He outplayed everyone who mattered from tee to green in round four at Torrey Pines, but he couldn’t buy enough putts (four more than Rahm) to close the deal. Some will point to a wayward drive at the penultimate hole and say That’s the one that did it, but it’s always the body of work that paints the portrait. On this day, as last month at the PGA, and at the Masters in 2012, Louis Oosthuizen was in the hands of the fates until the very last moment, but his number simply did not come up.

That one hole might be the best way to sum up the tribulations of those who fell short. For DeChambeau, it was the double at 13, as it was for Morikawa. Rory’s double came one hole earlier, at the long 12th. Brooks didn’t have a double on the card, but his bogey at twelve forced him to go for broke. He performed admirably for a few holes, with birdies at 13 and 15, but the Open never lets you truly go for broke and get away with it, unless your name is Johnny Miller, and that happened once. And the aforementioned English had seven birdies on the day, but he also made bogey at three of his first four, and added a fourth later on. For Rahm, that one hole turned out to be the 4th. Unlike the others, he kept the hole in front of him and never bit off too much. Although he made bogey, he never threatened anything higher. And that is one way that, in hindsight, you win a U.S. Open.

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5 things we learned Saturday at the U.S. Open

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The U.S. Open reminds me at times of this monologue from Maurice Moss at the infamous The IT Crowd soccer match

Sure, Roy says a few things, but it’s really Moss who carries the scene. Some people get/like U.S. Open golf, and some do not. There’s usually little movement on the leaderboard unless someone makes a passel of bogeys and doubles. For the third consecutive round at Torrey Pines, 67 earned low daily honors. That’s just four strokes below par, so the birdie fanatics had little to cheer (like Moss.) In fact, sometimes, it’s hard to determine just who is winning, and who isn’t.

Well, that’s not exactly true. We know that this year’s Cinderella, Richard Bland, isn’t winning. Blandy ran out of gas on the back nine, making five bogies for 41 and 77 and tied for 21st. With that written, plenty of stories remain, and we’ve tracked down five five that you’ll agree are worthy of a spot in Five Things We Learned on day three of the US Open.

1. Spuds Mackenzie has a share of the lead

At least in Ontario, Poutine is a popular treat when you have the munchies. That’s our spuds reference, although Canada’s Mackenzie Hughes does share the grit of the bull terrier that hawked Budweiser back in the day. Hughes’ long game afforded him plenty of opportunities to chip away at par, and he made the most of them. His two hiccups came on the outward half, at the fourth and ninth holes. Approach shots went astray, and his chipping game failed to get him close enough for par saves. On the inward half, Hughes was brilliant. Two birdies and an eagle earned him a 32 and a minus-five total after three rounds. As he finished earliest at that number, Hughes was assured of a spot in Sunday’s final twosome, no matter what the chasers did.

2. Louis, Louis

No, not the song. This makes twice that the 2010 Open winner and champion golfer of the year has challenged into the final round of a 2021 major. The PGA didn’t end so well for him, if we’re talking victories. Let’s remember that, if not for Bubba’s wedge silliness, Oosthuizen might have a green jacket to wear while drinking from his claret jug. As things stand, Oosthuizen’s minus-five total has him even with Hughes and paired in the final twosome. Things will be different from his last-group match last month with Phil Mickelson. Let’s say that Hughes won’t have the fanatical following that Oosthuizen’s last partner had. Oh, did we mention how Louis finished off the day?

3. Rory and Bryson

No, they won’t play together. Rory gets Russell Henley in penultimate pairing, while Bryson tees it up with Scottie Schefler in the third-last pairing. Rory and Bryson do represent opposite sides of a conundrum: chase distance or don’t? Rory has been open about the toll that chasing yards put on his game, and he has spent the past year rediscovering much of his game that was lost. Torrey represents his first true chance to determine the worth of his quest. In contrast, Bryson is unabashed in his pursuit of distance, and has demonstrated that his method can have positive results. Rory reached minus-three on the strength of a four-under 67 on Saturday. He managed the front in one-under, then came alive on the inward half to match Paul Casey for day’s low round. Bryson had no bogies on his card on Saturday, and has an enviable, downward trend (73-69-68) in his scoring. I’ll say this: if he goes lower than 68 on Sunday, he keeps the trophy.

4. Rahm, DJ, and the Wolff

Jon Rahm got hosed by the 14th hole today. Sort of. He played carefully out of fairway sand, clanked the flag stick with his recovery, then got too aggressive with his par try. Other than that, he has more momentum going into Sunday. I say, forget caution; chase birdies. On egin!

Dustin Johnson is in a similar position. Come to think of it, so is Matthew Wolff. They are all within 4 shots of the lead, and there is no suggestion that any of the minus-5 guys will go any lower than 2 under on Sunday, to reach 7 under. Thus, what do these lads chase? Do they go for 66 and hope that it will be enough? I think so. It’s lower than any other round this week, but by one slim stroke. I’m hoping that the USGA will give us enough tempting hole locations to reward brave play. That would be a nice send-off for Mike Davis in his final U.S. Open as executive director and CEO.

5. Who do we like?

No one mentioned just yet. He first qualified for the U.S. Open in 2016, and one year later, earned low amateur honors. Slowly but surely, he has worked his way into contention in major events, tying for 4th and 8th in the last two PGA Championships. He has yet to win on the PGA Tour, but I say that he makes the 2021 U.S. Open his first tour win and his first major title. Ladies and gentlemen, meet Scottie Schefler, your 2021 Gorham Company trophy winner.

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5 things we learned Friday at the U.S. Open

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Some golfers played 24 holes on Friday to ensure that the woodsman’s axe would fall and the 36-hole cut would take place on schedule. Louis Oosthuizen closed out his opening 67 with three pars, joining Russell Henley atop the leaderboard. Sebastian Muñoz wasn’t so fortunate. He made double at the par-5 ninth to drop to even on the round then ballooned to a 77 to miss the cut by two. So cruel, this game. For every Muñoz, however, there is an Akshay Bhatia. Let’s enjoy his clutch performance at the last, and count the five things that we learned on Friday at the U.S. Open.

1. Bland on the run

Check my Twitter feed. At 2:10 pm, EST on this Friday of U.S. Open 2021, I indicated to @acaseofthegolf1 that I would utilize Bland on the run rather than the trite Anything but bland, in honor of Sir Paul McCartney’s recent birthday. There you go. What’s that? Who is Richard Bland? He’s an English bloke, a man who amassed seven birdies against three bogeys on day two and jumped to 6 under par for a time. He made bogey at his penultimate hole, else he would be at minus 6 on the week. Bland won his first European Tour event last month after years of attempts. He came close in 2002 at the Irish Open, where he lost in a playoff. Since then, it’s been grind, grind, grind. He cannot possibly win this thing, given that better Brits like Monty, Poulty, Westy, Casey, and Lukey have not. Rosey did win it, however, so maybe Blandy can do so, after all. What’s he got to lose?

2. Speaking of guys we haven’t seen in a minute…

That two-time Masters champion, Bubba Watson, matched Bland’s 67  with an eagle at the 18th. He moved into fourth place, two behind Bland. That Louis Oosthuizen got up early (see lede) to finish round one, struggled a bit through round two, but rallied through the hangover, and birdied two holes down the stretch to finish at even on the day, one back of Bland. That Jon Rahm played more solid, post-COVID-19 golf, posting 70 for minus 3. Rahm lowered his bogey total from three to two on day two, and that’s the key to winning U.S. Open championships. And one more? How about first-round, co-leader Russell Henley, also known as second-round co-leader Russell Henley? He followed his 67 with 70, led for his own minute, and will tee off in the final pairing with Richard Bland.

3. Calling mid-60s round

Six rounds of 67 have been posted, followed by five more at 68. Yes, this is the U.S. Open, but these are the world’s best golfers, on a course that they know very well. Someone will find a way to reach 65 today, mark my words. That 6-under round will do someone a lot of good, but it won’t win the tournament. Nothing wins the tournament on Saturday.

What will allow that magical round to happen? In the first place, the golfer will drive the ball in play on all three long holes, and will not err laterally with his second. Birdies or better on all three par-5 holes will be necessary to offset the occasional bogey on Torrey Pines’ long-for-your-and-me par 4s. By shooting that number on Saturday, the lead pack after 54 holes will know that it can be done, and will chase the same number down on Sunday.

4. Right brain, meet left brain

I cannot move farther without recognizing the two sides of Matthew Wolff. On Thursday, the young Californian painted his scorecard like a creative kindergartner. He amassed eight birdies and countered them with three bogeys and two doubles. On Friday, Wolff played nothing like that foundling. His game was controlled, his numbers were almost boring, but he improved by two shots to 68 and a tie for third, at 4 under par. The Oklahoma State product isn’t driving the ball that well, but he is finding his way to the putting surface. A 43 percent fairways-hit statistic is countered by a nearly incomprehensible 75 percent greens in regulation that ranks him first. The only way to explain his rise is that blend of confidence and arrogance that successful golfers have. Wolff tees off in the penultimate grouping with the resurgent Oosthuizen, who looks to improve upon last year’s T3 at Winged Foot, and last month’s T2 at Kiawah.

5. Saturday’s fun pairing

I cannot resist the third-last pairing of Bubba Watson and Jon Rahm. Gerry Lester Watson tied for 18th at the 2009 U.S. Open, his best career finish in this event. Since then, even as he won two Masters and established himself in the upper echelon of the game’s talent, the US Open became an enigma. Not hard to imagine why; the long lefthander adds a mercurial temperament that doesn’t square with a USGA set-up. Torrey is different, and Watson has a long-ago triumph here, over Phil Mickelson of all golfers, in his memory bank. Watson makes birdies, including five in his final seven holes on Friday. He’ll need to churn out another half-dozen on Saturday and Sunday each, to take a run at a coveted, second unique major title. No one knows what goes on in Bubba’s mind, least of all Bubba. That’s when he plays his best.

Paired with him is the game’s great in waiting, Jon Rahm. Much has been written of his unfortunate disqualification from the Memorial, and in truth, a parkland course in middle America has no bearing on the next 48 hours. Rahm has shed the mentors and is his own man. What type of champion will he become? El gran Vasco has eight birdies and five bogies over the first 36 holes, and has kept the ball mostly in play through the green. His long-game numbers are fine, but it’s the way he rolls the ball that has kept him in the game. Is that a great recipe for a brush with immortality? Probably not, unless he keeps it up. Saturday will show us the depth of Rahm’s mental fortitude.

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