U.S. Open notebook: Johnson hopes he saved his best for last at Pinehurst

ablondin@thesunnews.comJune 14, 2014 

— Dustin Johnson managed to record a score of par or better for the third consecutive round in the 114th U.S. Open, and he still believes his best round could be forthcoming.

“I've yet to feel like I've played a great round of golf. It's in there,” Johnson said. “Hopefully tomorrow is my great round. I've been playing pretty well on Sundays this year. Hopefully I continue that.”

The Coastal Carolina alumnus followed up a pair of 69s with an even-par 70 Saturday on a Pinehurst No. 2 that was a stiffer test than in the first two rounds, and is tied for fourth at 2-under 208.

“It was tough out there today. I didn't exactly have my ‘A’ game, either,” Johnson said. “It was really hard to get close to these flags. But I did a really good job of never leaving myself in a really bad spot. … And then I never put too much pressure on myself as far as my long putts. My speed was really good today.”

Johnson will need his best round of the week if he hopes to catch leader Martin Kaymer. He’s six strokes behind Kaymer and a stroke behind Rickie Fowler and Erik Compton.

“I need to hit it better tomorrow if I want a chance to win is the bottom line,” said Johnson, who will be in the third-to-last pairing of the day at 3:13 p.m. with Brandt Snedeker. “I have to hit it better. I have to control the golf ball a little bit better and get more looks at birdies.

“But anything can happen. It's a U.S. Open. The golf course is a lot firmer and a lot faster.”

Johnson scrambled for his 70, as he hit several drives into native areas and had several shots roll off the back of greens.

He hit 10 greens in regulation Saturday for his fewest of the three days, and fell to last in the field among those who made the cut in fairways hit after finding seven of 14 fairways for the third consecutive day. His misses were farther offline Saturday, however.

“I wasn't driving it well, so I really just tried to play conservative and tried to make pars,” he said. “And I did have a little stretch there on the back where I hit some good shots and had some good looks at birdies, and made a couple.”

Johnson birdied the par-5 10th and par-4 14th holes and bogeyed the par-4 second and 16th holes. He had only a few birdie putts inside 20 feet.

He also flipped a 9-iron head upside down and chipped left-handed from vegetation in a bunker lip on the seventh hole to help save par.

“I don't practice that one,” he said. “There was a little clump of pine straw that was just underneath the bush and the ball just got caught on it, so the ball was kind of sitting up in the air a little bit. And there was no way I could hit it right-handed. I just hit and hoped and it came out okay and got just in front of the green, which I was very pleased with.”

Johnson hadn’t recorded a score of par or better in the past two opens at Olympic Club and Merion. “I wasn't particularly a big fan of the last two [courses],” Johnson said. “You know, great golf courses, they just didn't suit me.”

Fowler channels Payne

Fowler enters the final round five strokes behind Kaymer and in the final group with the leader.

He hopes to be in a position to strike a winning pose as Payne Stewart did in the 1999 U.S. Open at Pinehurst, and he paid tribute to Stewart by wearing baby blue-colored knickers in the opening round. He kept the tribute a secret and sent a message to Stewart’s daughter, Chelsea.

“I said, ‘I hope you guys liked it as much as I did, because it was a lot of fun walking around with her dad that day,” Fowler said. “It was definitely special.”

A European flavor

Kaymer is enjoying the changes in Pinehurst – including the firmness of the fairways and wild native areas surrounding them – that were made with the restoration since the last U.S. Open on the course in ’05.

It’s not a typical U.S. Open setup that almost invariably features thick, penalizing rough surrounding every hole, and he believes that has played a part in his lead, and possibly Henrik Stenson of Sweden being tied for fourth through three rounds.

“I think for us Europeans, or especially the guys from the U.K., we're more used to playing those golf courses than the thick rough and long fairway or long holes with tight fairways,” Kaymer said. “So I think it's a little bit of a favor for the European players.”

Kaymer is the first player to open any major championship with consecutive rounds of 65 or better.

Kaymer vs. World

If Kaymer is able to hold on Sunday and win the U.S. Open, the timing might not be the best for him to get the proper credit in his home country.

The German national soccer team begins its World Cup in Brazil at noon Monday.

“They talk about the preparation probably every single minute or hour about what the national team is doing, which is fair enough,” Kaymer said. “Football is our biggest sport and I can't wait to watch the first game when they play against Portugal on Monday. So [golf] is a little bit of a side sport right now. I don’t think golf is that important, but there’s not much I can do. I can just try my best and hopefully I can put myself out there, but there's never really a chance to challenge the national team.”

He figures to get at least some short-lived notoriety. “If I win, it will last probably until Monday, 12 o'clock, and then that's it,” he joked.

A stiffening test

Displaying how easy Pinehurst No. 2 played in the opening two rounds, the 36-hole cut of 145 was tied for the fourth lowest in tournament history.

The lowest cut of 143 occurred at Olympia Fields in 2003. The U.S. Opens that cut at 144 were at Baltusrol in 1993 and Bethpage in 1999.

The scoring average on the course increased from an average of 73.06 in the first two rounds to 73.82 Saturday, with a field that was cut down to the 69 players with the lowest scores through 36 holes.

Watson pulls double

Masters champion Bubba Watson is the only reigning Masters champion to miss the cut at the U.S. Open since 1995, and he’s done it twice.

Watson missed the cut this week by a stroke with a 6-over 146, and also missed the cut at Olympic Club after winning the Masters in 2012.

Contact ALAN BLONDIN at 626-0284 or on Twitter @alanblondin, or read his blog Green Reading at myrtlebeachonline.com

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