BROOKLINE, United States: England's Matt Fitzpatrick and American Will Zalatoris, each chasing his first major title, shared the lead after Saturday's third round of the US Open as brisk wind and brutal rough tormented golf's top stars.
Fitzpatrick birdied three of the last five holes at The Country Club but a closing bogey left him level with Zalatoris, last month's PGA Championship runner-up, on four-under par 206, one ahead of defending champion Jon Rahm after 54 holes.
"I knew it was going to play hard and I just needed to stay patient'', Zalatoris said. "I knew if I make an early bogey or two, don't change the game plan, don't try to get extra aggressive because that's how you make a mess of it."
Zalatoris, also last year's Masters runner-up, fired a three-under 67 while Fitzpatrick, the 2013 US Amateur winner at The Country Club, fired a 68.
"Wind was really strong. It made it tough'', Fitzpatrick said. "You had to be switched on with the way you were hitting it, where you were missing it, and I think that was why it was a great challenge. Really happy with my score."
The Country Club bared its teeth in formidable conditions to humble world number two Rahm, four-time major winner Rory McIlroy, top-ranked Masters champion Scottie Scheffler and two-time major winner Collin Morikawa among others.
"It was one of the toughest days on a golf course I've had in a long time'', McIlroy said after a 73.
Fitzpatrick can match Jack Nicklaus as the only players to win the US Amateur and Open on the same course, Nicklaus doing it at Pebble Beach.
"It gives me an edge'', the Briton said. "To come back here and play so well again, it gives me growing confidence round by round."
Fitzpatrick found a bunker at 18 and missed a 21-foot par putt while Zalatoris escaped a bunker to five feet and parred 18.
"This place is a beast'', Zalatoris said. "It was brutal."
Spaniard Rahm stumbled with early bogeys, one at the par-5 eighth after his tee shot landed behind a tree, but birdied the par-5 14th, sank a 29-foot birdie putt at 15 and birdied 17 only for the unrelenting course to strike again.
At 18, Rahm found a fairway bunker and blasted his second shot into thick grass that batted it back into the sand. His third was a "fried egg" into a greenside bunker and he blasted out and two-putted for 71.
"It was extremely difficult conditions, the wind being a little bit higher and stronger than the last few days, a different direction'', Rahm said. "Then the course being a little bit firmer, that's just a recipe for difficulty."
"I think I got a little bit too cute with the (18th bunker) shot. Tried to be a little too perfect."
Scheffler shared fourth on 208 after a roller coaster 71 alongside fellow American Keegan Bradley and Canada's Adam Hadwin.
Scheffler, seeking his fifth title of the year, holed out for eagle from 101 yards at the par-5 eighth only to double bogey the par-3 11th and follow with three consecutive bogeys before a tap-in birdie at 17 and 14-foot par save at 18.
"I ended up with double. After that I didn't really play that bad. I just made three bogeys in a row'', Scheffler said. "It's just US Open. Things happen like that, and they happen quickly."
'Needed to grind'
Third-ranked McIlroy endured nightmare putting to share seventh on 209 with Americans Sam Burns and Joel Dahmen.
McIlroy had three bogeys and a short birdie miss in the first six holes. He made a 12-foot birdie putt at 11 only to find rough and a bogey at 12 before parring to the end.
"I just needed to grind it out'', McIlroy said. "To play that back nine at even par was a really good effort. Just kept myself in the tournament."
Reigning British Open champion Morikawa went bogey-double bogey at six and seven and again at 12 and 13 on the way to a 77 to share 17th on 212, six shots back.
The top final-round victory comeback in US Open history was in 1960 when Arnold Palmer rallied from seven strokes down to win at Cherry Hills. — AFP