It has taken a while to get to this point with the rain delays, the three-putts and all those shots chopped out of the Oakmont cabbage but the U.S. Open has arrived at Sunday.
It’s missing Phil Mickelson, Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler and plenty of other soft-spiked stars who couldn’t handle Oakmont’s heavy-fisted demands but now it’s about what can be won rather than what has been lost.
That brings us to Dustin Johnson, who stands one strong Father’s Day away from winning his first major championship. To this point, Johnson has handled Oakmont and all of its head-scratching quirks as well as anyone.
The hard part remains, getting from the completion of the third round early Sunday morning to the trophy presentation Sunday evening, but Johnson has given himself another opportunity to close the circle.
If you’re into redemption or delayed gratification or the belief that sooner or later Johnson is going to find a major he can’t kick away, this could be the one.
It’s been a year since Johnson handed the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay in Washington to Jordan Spieth on a three-putt platter. Needing a birdie at the par-5 72 nd hole to force a playoff, Johnson covered the first 602 yards in two swings but needed three putts from inside 15 feet, a wrenching collapse even by U.S. Open standards.
That was just the latest in a series of knife twists that have punctured but not entirely defined Johnson’s golf career. He’s a very good player who has won at least one PGA Tour event each of the past eight seasons, the longest such streak at the moment.
But because he’s so athletic, moving like a leopard, and so powerful, there’s a sense that Johnson has underachieved. He was a grounded club away from perhaps winning a PGA Championship and a 2-iron tee shot out of bounds from possibly winning a British Open, among other missed chances.
He’s a fixture on major championship leader boards, having been in the top 10 after 36 holes in the last eight majors. Born in Columbia and having spent a good portion of his life around Myrtle Beach before heading off to south Florida, Johnson is in the all-world class of golfers.
He seized control of this off-kilter U.S. Open on Friday when he played 36 holes in 4-under par while half the field was forced to wait until Saturday morning to play its second round. Though Johnson was only tied for the lead after two days, it felt like he was the man piloting the ship.
It got dicier Saturday after Johnson wasted a two-stroke lead with an ugly double-bogey at the par-4 third hole where he had to play the same pitch shot twice after the first one rolled back near his feet. Until then, Johnson had seemed oblivious to Oakmont’s snakebites.
Anyone within six shots of the lead has a chance in the final round if for no other reason that, aside from Jason Day, none of the leaders has ever won a major championship.
Winning any tournament is hard work. Winning a U.S. Open at Oakmont is grindingly difficult. There is no let up, no easy swing, no easy hole.
Spieth had charged back into contention Saturday afternoon only to kick away much of his good work with a double-bogey on his 11th hole. Earlier in the day, McIlroy birdied four of his first seven holes but double-bogeyed two of his final seven to miss the cut.
This Sunday is different because the top of the leader board is filled with players who have never won a major championship. Shane Lowry is dangerously good. Sergio Garcia has been flirting with majors for more than a decade. Lee Westwood has done it longer than that.
Then there’s Andrew Landry, the 624 th ranked player in the world, who keeps acting like this is no big deal.
Maybe this is his day.
Or maybe it’s finally Dustin Johnson’s day.
Ron Green Jr. is senior writer for Global Golf Post (www.globalgolfpost.com) and a contributor to the Charlotte Observer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.