European Tour Members Retief Goosen and Ernie Els will go out in the final pairing for the fourth round of the 104th US Open Championship with Goosen holding a two-stroke advantage over Els and Masters Champion Phil Mickelson going into what is sure to be a classic final day at Shinnecock Hills.
Goosen, the 2001 Champion, shot arguably the round of the day, his 69 only the third sub-par score of an incredibly difficult third day, which took him to five under par 205. That left him two clear of fellow South African Els, winner of the US Open Championship in 1994 and 1997, in addition to the Open Championship in 2002, and the reigning Masters Champion Mickelson, who bogeyed the last two holes for a 73.
A third European Tour Member, Sergio Garcia of Spain, is also in the mix at one over par, sharing ninth place and six shots adrift of Goosen.
Goosen, winner of the Volvo Order of Merit in 2001 and 2002, took the lead for the first time with a birdie on the tenth but fell back with successive dropped shots on the 13th and 14th. But in the manner of a true champion, the South African responded with birdies at the 15th and 16th holes and had the chance to extend his lead further on the final green. A perfectly executed second shot finished five feet from the hole but his birdie putt for a round of 68 slipped by the low side of the cup.
“It was good today,” said Goosen. “I played very well, tee to green I played better than I have all week. But the greens are tough as they are getting firmer, drier and faster. The two bogeys on the 13th and 14th were not easy but I came back nicely with two birdies. I felt very comfortable out there, my focusing is good and I’m looking forward to tomorrow.”
Leading the chase on Goosen is his close friend and compatriot Els, the current leader of the Volvo Order of Merit and World Number Two who has the chance of becoming World Number One should he win on Sunday night. A gutsy level par 70, comprising three birdies and three bogeys, kept Els right in the hunt for a third US Open success following his previous triumphs at Oakmont and Congressional in 1994 and 1997 respectively.
“It was a tough day,” said Els. “The greens were incredibly tough – tough to stop the ball on and tough to putt on. But I have to be happy with what it shot today. If I can shoot that tomorrow I have a chance. It is very important for me to play well in these big tournaments and I’m right in there.”
Garcia, high on confidence following his play-off victory in the Buick Classic last weekend, remains in contention after a battling one over par 71 put him one over par for the 54 holes and only six shots adrift of the leaders.
“It was a hard day,” said Garcia. “It was tough all day. From the sixth hole on, when the wind changed and started blowing harder and harder, I was really pleased being four over through ten holes and managed to get it back to one over.
“I think that was a good effort, and I feel like I still have a chance tomorrow. I have to get to a better start than I did today. I think if I start nice and confident and I get it going a little bit at the beginning, I feel comfortable in the back nine and I feel good on it, so we'll see what happens, but it's going to be interesting to watch.”
Mickelson, fourth the last time the US Open was played at Shinnecock Hills, dropped shots on the last two holes to drop back from a tie for the lead with Goosen in his bid to add the US Open title to the Masters title he won in April and keep his hopes of a Grand Slam alive. Earlier on the seventh hole, he fell foul of the treacherous slopes on the par three green as he double bogeyed but clawed his way back to five under only to slip up at the end.
On a difficult, blustery day at Shinnecock Hills, Argentine Angel Cabrera struggled to a seven over par 77 to fall back to four over par, one better than Open Champion Ben Curtis of America (72) and Fiji’s Vijay Singh, whose hopes of victory diminished with a seven over par 77, as did Trevor Immelman’s after a third round 79.
Japan’s Shigeki Maruyama double bogeyed the final hole to fall three shots off the lead on two under par after a 74 while American Fred Funk, who topped the leaderboard after birdies at the 11th and 12th, dropped three shots in his last five holes to fall back alongside Maruyama in joint fourth place on two under par.