MAMARONECK, N.Y. – A cool wind blew across Winged Foot until the players on the first page of the leaderboard began walking from the practice area to the first tee.
It made all the difference.
There were birdies to be made before lunch, but they were harder to come by. Conditions were on par with Friday, with firm and fast greens. Very few players survived the first five holes without a bogey.
Or two. Or three.
Paul Casey made five bogeys in the first seven holes, then rebounded with six birdies in the last 11 holes as temperatures warmed.
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“In all honesty I kind of wanted to walk in after the first five, six, seven holes,” he said. “It was just ugly. In fairness, it was incredibly difficult out there. It was windy this morning. It was cold. Those first few holes with the wind straight into your face on holes 1, 2 and 3 are just very, very difficult.”
Casey’s 1-under 69 got him back to 5 over.
Not every pin was tucked away in a corner.
The rough was measuring at least 6 inches and has not been cut since the championship began. It’s longer around many of the greens. The putting surfaces were again firm and clocking a solid 13 on the Stimpmeter at the start of the day.
Danny Lee had an episode on the 18th green, six-putting from inside four feet. He walked off with a quintuple bogey and promptly withdrew from the U.S. Open, citing a wrist injury.
That is by far the nightmare moment of the championship.
“I think anything under par on this golf course today is a really good score,” said Rory McIlroy, who made up ground with a 2-under 68. “I saw Alex (Noren) go out there and shoot 3-under earlier. You know, I’m not saying it’s out there. He got a good one, I did, and there’s maybe a couple other guys that are under par. The wind is not quite as strong as it was yesterday. You know, it maybe played a touch less difficult I’ll say. Not easier, but it was a little less difficult.”
The gusts did occasionally inspire debates about club selection.
Winged Foot played to a stroke average of 72.6 on Thursday, the lowest ever here in U.S. Open play. The number climbed to 75.3 on Friday. It slipped somewhere in the middle on Saturday.
“It feels like I should be tailgating right now,” Zach Johnson said of the crisp, fall-like temperatures after he signed for a 68 that got him back to 2-over for the championship. “Thursday conditions were as easy as they could be. That’s was the easiest Winged Foot U.S. Open you’re ever going to see. And today, this morning was not easy, I gather that, but the wind kind of calmed down. We actually had stretches where there was none, so you could get at it.”
McIlroy expects Sunday to be difficult no matter the weather and is confident a challenge is possible from as many as six shots back at the start of the final round.
“You’re going to have stretches in U.S. Opens where you’re going to make bogeys and you’re going to make mistakes, but if you can back it up with stretches of golf like I showed there, that’s what you have to do,” he said. “It’s not going to be all plain sailing in this tournament.”
Mike Dougherty covers golf for The Journal News/lohud.com. He can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @hoopsmbd and @lohudgolf.