U.S. Open: What we learned Saturday at Oakmont

Jason Day
USA Today Sports Images
Jason Day was nowhere to be found after the first day at the U.S. Open. Now, the world's best player is quietly back in contention thanks to a third-round, 66.
By Matt S. Craig
PGA.com

Published: Saturday, June 18, 2016 | 9:18 p.m.

Another long day of play at Oakmont, a clearer picture is coming into focus for who might be raising the trophy on Sunday evening. Before play was suspended due to darkness, it was Irishman Shane Lowry who found himself on top of the leaderboard.

His three-under round on the course was good enough for a tournament total of five-under par, which is two shots clear of Andrew Landry and three clear of Dustin Johnson, Sergio Garcia, and Lee Westwood.

The leaders will be back out bright and early in the morning to finish up the third round and will jockey for position heading into the final 18.

Until then, here are five lessons that we learned from Saturday:

1. Oakmont can humble even the best players in the world.

Part of Oakmont's legend comes with its ability to produce great champions. While there are still plenty of people who fit into that category in the field, many other great players missed the cut Saturday.

What the course doesn't allow is players who aren't at the top of their games, which was the case for the following notable players:

Rory McIlroy (+8)
Phil Mickelson (+7)
Geoff Ogilvy (+7)
Justin Rose (+8)
David Toms (+8)
Ernie Els (+10)
Retief Goosen (+10)
Webb Simpson (+11)

A U.S. Open weekend won't be the same without Phil Mickelson and his pursuit of that elusive career grand slam. The 36-hole day couldn't have been helpful for the 46-year-old, or for Justin Rose who was coming off of a back injury. Fans will also certainly miss Rory McIlroy, whose weekend bid ended on his final hole.

2. This could be the week to end someone's heartbreak.

There are plenty of players at the top of the leaderboard with some major championship scars. Namely Sergio Garcia, who has ten top-5's in majors, Lee Westwood, who has nine top-3's, and Dustin Johnson. All three are within three shots of the lead, and a win for one of them could change the way they are remembered forever.

While they have a few more skeletons in the closet, those three are not the only ones looking to pick up their first major championship. Of the top 12 players on the leaderboard, the only players with a major championship victory are Jason Day and Zach Johnson. All six players who are under par for the tournament are looking for their first major, including leader Shane Lowry.

3. Dustin Johnson has plenty of experience as a front-runner.

I don't need to remind you Dustin Johnson has plenty of experience leading at majors. But he lead after 36 holes at last year's U.S. Open and Open Championship, and found himself in a familiar position again on Saturday. How did he handle it this time?

Well, I can say it wasn't as disasterous as last year's Open at St. Andrews. For the most part, Johnson's rocket engines were stuck in a holding pattern as missed putts continued to stymie birdie attempts.

Then, he started to lose control with his irons, hitting only six of the 13 greens he played in the third round in regulation after leading the field in that category over the first two rounds. This led to a couple bogeys, placing Johnson at two-under par and three shots behind the lead.

4. Andrew Landry is not backing down under pressure.

Landry's first-round 66 made most people say, "who is Andrew Landry?" However, the 624th ranked player in the world refused to fade in round two, posting a 71 that kept him in contention.

Many thought the pressure of being in the final pairing on Saturday afternoon might expose Landry, but the Texan is proving there are no cracks to be found in either his nerves or his game. By his own admission, Landry isn't one to make a handful of birdies, but he has remained rock solid and had an even-par round going before play was called for the night.

He sits just two shots behind Lowry with five holes to play Sunday morning.

5. World No. 1 has something to say.

Coming into the week, anyone trying to predict a champion for the 116th U.S. Open would at least mention world No. 1 Jason Day in the conversation. But after a first-round 76 left him tied for 100th, most of that talk subsided.

Even after a solid 69 in round two, no one was taking Day seriously as he came into Saturday's afternoon round trailing the lead by eight strokes.

But after carding four birdies in the first five holes, Day surged back into the conversation. After making the turn towards the tougher front nine, he kept his hot round alive with a nice eagle putt on the fourth hole. Take a look:

Day ended with a four-under-par 66, leaving just seven players ahead of him going into Sunday. With his undeniable talent and newfound touch on the putting greens, I don't think anyone is counting out the Aussie anymore.
 

Matt S. Craig is a PGA.com intern and a Digital Sports Production student at Ball State University.