'Moving Day' sees scores drop precipitously at U.S. Open
Championship's top four golfers at 11-under-par or better

By GIDAL KAISER - Daily News

June 17, 2017

Justin Thomas of Goshen, Ky. smiles as he waves to the crowd after sinking a putt for eagle on hole No. 18 Saturday afternoon during the third round of the U.S. open golf tournament at Erin Hills in the town of Erin.
Photo by John Ehlke/Daily News
>>View slideshow of Day 3 of US Open Tournament

TOWN OF ERIN — The roar from the grandstand perhaps reached the town of Hartford.

After Justin Thomas' eight-foot eagle putt on No. 18 Saturday, his celebration was simple. Thomas fist-bumped caddie James Johnson, and doffed his cap to the grandstand area as he closed his third round of the 117th U.S. Open.

His eagle cemented a 9-under-par 63, which is the lowest one-round score in the history of the U.S. Open Championship. One might expect a little more excitement — unless one is his caddie, James Johnson.

“No he didn't did he?” Johson replied when it was remarked Thomas had little expression after the eagle. “I think he just expects to make them.”

The 23-year caddie who has been on the bag for two other 63s in his career — Nick Price (1986 Masters) and Wisconsinite Steve Stricker (2011 PGA Championship) — called Thomas' round “incredible.”

“I don't know other words, but it's satisfying for sure,” Johnson said. “Like you said, it's history. It hasn't been beaten.”

Brian Harman of Sea Island, Ga. tips his hat to the crowd after finishing the third round of the U.S. open golf tournament at Erin Hills in the town of Erin.
Photo by John Ehlke/Daily News

In the end, however, history wasn't enough to stand at the top on a day dubbed “Moving Day” for a reason.

With many of the world's top golfers out of the field, several non-household names and up-and-comers took advantage of softer conditions provided by overnight rain and an absence of wind. The major's top 13 golfers range from seven-under-par 209 to Brian Harman's 204, and the top 17 are at six-under 210 or better.

The biggest movement up the leaderboard was by the 30-year-old Harman, who weaved his way through a six-birdie, one-bogey round to card a five-under-par 67 and fall to minus-12 (2-4) for the tournament.

Harman also earned his first major championship cut made Friday.

“So we're breaking down all kinds of barriers,” Harman said of his day. “I'm proud of the way I hung in there today. I got off to a pretty good start, which I really haven't done yet, so that was nice. Struck it well, had a couple putts that could have gone that didn't, but had a bunch of looks, hit a bunch of greens, and that's what you've got to do to play well around here.”

Harman noted Thomas' 63 didn't really provide motivation or alter his gameplan for the back nine.

“Obviously, Justin played a great round, but he was two, two-and-a-half hours before me,” Harman said. “The golf course can change a lot, especially in an Open. So I didn't put any expectations on myself after seeing how well he was playing.”

A slight sprinkle hit hole No. 18 as the second to last group of Tommy Fleetwood and Brooks Koepka made their way onto the green. Both are in a second place tie with Thomas — all three are at an 11-under 205 for the tournament.

Fleetwood nearly came into the clubhouse with a minus-12. His long chip shot attempt to get him onto the No. 18 green didn't get up a ridge high enough, and spun backward. A second chip from near the bottom of the ridge overshot the hole and skittered off the green and down the slope behind it.

Fleetwood punched onto the green on what was his par-5 shot, then putted in for a six.

“It was a good save, though. It was a good bogey,” he said. “That fifth shot on 18 was the best shot of the day.”

To that point, Fleetwood had five birdies and was minus-5 for the day.

“I don't think I could play any different or score any better than I have done,” he said. “And you can't do anything about what anybody else is doing. If somebody shoots 9-under tomorrow in the top few then I'll have to shoot 10, I guess. But you can't do anything about that stuff. I've just got to keep going.”

Koepka had the same attitude after he, too, shot a four-under-68.

“It's not easy by any means, it's the U.S. Open,” he said. “But I played pretty well.

“I've only hit 7-iron, that's the longest I've hit into any par-4. When you're doing that, you've got to be able to put it on the green. Some guys are hitting 4-iron into the greens, and having a wedge and a 9-iron. I've got to put it close.”

He put the ball close enough to sink five birdies and offset a bogey on the par-4 No. 3.

“I made two bad swings on the front nine. I got in the hazard on one and pulled the 4-iron on the par-3,” Koepka said. “If you do that you're going to deserve a bogey out there. I felt like I made a couple of good putts there coming in on 8 and 9, just didn't happen to go in. I'll take it.”

Thomas reiterated that multiple times after his round, a jaunt in which he recorded nine birdies, including thre consecutive to finsh his front nine and one on No. 17 to give him momentum into the final hole.

He also registered two bogeys, which were wiped away by the eagle.

“I knew I hit it really well,” Thomas said of his second shot, which reached the green. “I had 310 hole, but it was downwind to where I knew if I hit it solid, I could definitely get it there.”

Thomas' hand shook slightly as he studied the green, and his putt.

“I just get a little shaky and jittery on putts, and that's what happened on (the par-5 hole) 15. Then I was so mad at myself for that,” Thomas said of missing a birdie on that hole. “So I could feel a little bit again (on 18), but I just wanted to calm myself and just try to relax over that putt.”

There was also the score to consider.

“I knew what it was score-wise. I knew it was for 63,” Thomas said. “You've got leaderboards everywhere, and for the most part you usually have an idea what you're doing.

“I told Jimmy walking up there once I found out we had a putt, I said let's try to become a part of history here.... But I had no idea in terms of 9-under being the best in the U.S. Open.”

It was, and is.

Thomas' eagle also had him at the top of the leaderboard for nearly three hours — until Harman's consistency (67-70-67) put him second in U.S. Open 54-hole score history, behind Rory McIlory's 14-under-par at the 2011 championship.

“I'm more motivated by the fact that I've made a plan and I've stuck to the plan so far,” Harman said. “Obviously I have no idea what tomorrow holds, but I'm more motivated by the way that I'm striking the ball. It's the best I've struck the ball in a long time.

“And my short game is pretty good. I've been putting it pretty good. So I'm excited about all those things.”