BROOKLINE, Mass. – Overnight co-leader Joel Dahmen gave back four strokes before making the turn in the third round of the U.S. Open. Beau Hossler and Hayden Buckley, who started one stroke back, fell off the leaderboard entirely.
For Patrick Rodgers and Matthew NeSmith, the short-lived thrill of contending at a major tournament might just have to do.
The qualifiers who lingered among the leaders for 36 holes at The Country Club came back to reality Saturday like so many NCAA Tournament 12 seeds who pull off a first-round upset only to be sent home before the weekend is done.
“I knew it was going to be hard. I didn’t know it was going to be that hard,” said Dahmen, a bucket-hatted journeyman whose car was misplaced by the valet after the second round. “It was way harder today. But it was a true U.S. Open setup, that’s for sure.”
The U.S. Open earned its name by opening its field to anyone who can make it through qualifying, whether they're a professional not otherwise exempt or an amateur with a handicap that shows they belong. Nearly 9,000 try, with 870 competing in a one-day, 36-hole final test for the few spots allotted to each site.
Six of the top 12 second-round leaders came through qualifying, sharing the late tee times with major championship winners like Collin Morikawa, Jon Rahm and Rory McIlroy.
And on Saturday, they found out why the USGA bills the tournament as “the toughest test in golf.”
Only Adam Hadwin, an alternate who didn't receive his invitation until Paul Casey withdrew on June 8 with a bad back, remained within two strokes of leaders Will Zalatoris and Matt Fitzpatrick at 4 under.
“Pretty crazy to think,” said Hadwin, who shot a 59 in a PGA Tour event in 2017 and won a tournament that year. “I was excited to get the call just because I’ve been playing some good golf.
“I felt like I was well-prepared to come in and just kind of plod along and just shot after shot," he said. "And things have worked out so far.”
Hadwin, who was alone in the lead after the first round, shot 70 on Saturday and was 2 under for the tournament. Dahmen was tied for seventh at 1 under; Nick Hardy (73) was alone in 10th at even par.
Buckley had two double bogeys in his round and limped home with a 75, leaving him tied with NeSmith (74) for 11th at 1 over. Hossler’s 78 left him at 4 over; Rodgers shot 75 and was 2 over.
Dahmen, a testicular cancer survivor who has one career PGA Tour victory, was 5 under through 36 holes, good enough to tee off in the final group with Morikawa.
But he left a birdie putt short on the first hole and three-putted to fall out of the lead. Dahmen also bogeyed Nos. 4, 7 and 8 before pars on the last 11 holes left him at 1 under, tied for seventh.
“The wind flipped, made some of the easy holes really hard, and the first four holes were brutal,” he said.
Sunday’s setup figures to be even more challenging.
“Maybe I can sneak up behind them tomorrow," Dahmen said. “My game is right there. I’ve proven I can hang with these guys. You know, if I get off to a good start tomorrow, it’s going to be really fun. That’s the goal.”
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