Editor’s note: I’m at Congressional Country Club this week covering the 2011 U.S. Open. Share your U.S. Open thoughts: Comment below or email me at email@example.com.
THE CLOSEST PURSUERS BEGAN teeing off about an hour before 36-hole leader Rory McIlroy began his third round alongside Y.E. Yang at 3:50 p.m. McIlroy’s record-setting U.S. Open play over the first two days gave him a six-stroke advantage over Yang and a nine-shot cushion on six other players. The chase pack, if you could call it that, had a lot of ground to make up.
While Englishman Robert Rock and Spaniard Alvaro Quiros teed off on the 1st hole, Matt Kuchar and Sergio Garcia grooved their putting strokes on the practice green. Garcia worked on short ones, nudging three footers toward the cup using his claw grip. Kuchar, wielding a long putter, stuck a tee in the ground and stroked right-to-left breakers at it until departing for his 3:20 p.m. tee time with Kyung-Tae Kim.
The crowds on this overcast Saturday at the U.S. Open were large, enthusiastic and sometimes raucous. But not all were enthralled by the action. While Kuchar lined up his birdie putt at the 1st, one woman read a novel under a nearby tree. The book title: Suite Francaise, the bestseller by Irene Nemirovsky. The woman claimed to be a golf fan but quickly admitted she was “sort of” dragged to the event. She said she needed a reading break.
Moments later Zach Johnson arrived at the 1st green and sank a birdie to get to 2-under par. Johnson gave the stroke back at the long par-3 3rd when his hybrid fell short of the green and he failed to get up and down for par. Meanwhile, playing partner Brandt Snedeker got a sand-save par by sinking a slippery 10-foot putt.
Then along came the leader, Rory McIlroy. The Irishman flared his tee shot into the right-hand rough at the 466-yard par-4 3rd. A man in the gallery taunted McIlroy as he walked to his ball. “Go get that Green Jacket, Rory! Go get that Green Jacket!”
Yet there were far more cheers than jeers. From the other side of the fairway came this chant: “Let’s go, Rory!” Then clap, clap … clap-clap-clap. The boisterous cheer repeated as the 22-year-old walked to his golf ball. He may not be Tiger Woods, but young McIlroy does seem to be building an American fan base, slowly, surely.
McIlroy wisely took his medicine, punching his ball out of the rough and onto the 3rd fairway. He followed with a little wedge shot that skipped to within two feet of the hole, another smart par save, another hole closer to his goal. Bunkered at the 4th, he nearly holed his sand shot for a birdie.
Rory McIlroy was on his way. No one was going to catch him on this day. Nor was anyone going to close the gap.
When the round ended a few hours later, McIlroy had increased his lead to eight shots over Y.E. Yang by firing a 3-under 68, a record-setting performance on a soft and defenseless Congressional course. (There’s a lot of red on the scoreboard. There were a bushel full of rounds in the 60s on Saturday, including 65s by Jason Day and Lee Westwood. It doesn’t feel like a U.S. Open.)
At this U.S. Open, McIlroy is like a Ferrari among Volkswagens. Now he’s one day closer to taking the checkered flag.
−The Armchair Golfer
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