SAN DIEGO (AP)Bryson DeChambeau’s bid to repeat as U.S. Open champion nearly derailed in an opening round filled with wild drives and shoddy irons.
The brawny golf-ball bruiser gathered himself late in that round, used a dreamy swing thought to play better in the next and went the right direction on moving day when several big-name players got it wrong.
How about that, Brooksy?
DeChambeau carded his first bogey-free round in a major championship on Saturday, shooting a 3-under 68 at Torrey Pines to move within two shots of the lead heading into the final round.
Now he has a chance at the ultimate silencer in his ongoing feud with Brooks Koepka: joining him in the back-to-back U.S. Open club.
”I was certainly glad to come away free of any mistakes today,” DeChambeau said. ”You’ve got to be really patient out here at these majors. It’s something that is not easy to do.”
Nothing looked easy for DeChambeau to start Thursday’s first round. He had three straight bogeys starting at No. 11 to go 4 over and appeared to be headed toward a quick exit.
A couple of late birdies helped him salvage a 73 and he headed to the range to sort out his swing, hitting balls under the lights after everyone left.
DeChambeau’s epiphany – keeping his right wrist bent a little longer through impact – didn’t come until later, when his unconscious-but-still-spinning mind dreamed up a solution. His night vision turned into reality when the sum came up, in the form of a second-round 69 that put him within sight of the leaders at even par.
DeChambeau trailed Richard Bland and Russell Henley by five to start the third round and went right to chipping away, knocking in a 7-foot birdie putt on the par-4 first hole. He added birdies on Nos. 6 and 13, but it was crucial saves that helped him keep the bogeys off his card.
DeChambeau had to take a drop after hitting his drive into the canyon right of the par-4 seventh hole, but hit his approach off a bare lie to seven feet and made the putt. After mis-hitting a 95-yard approach shot on the par-4 14th, DeChambeau chunked of the matted rough and made a 20-foot par putt.
”My first few goes at majors, I was not successful or anywhere near successful,” he said. ”I feel like I’m starting to understand major championship golf and how to play it and how to go about managing my game, my attitude and just my patience level.”
He even laid up.
DeChambeau hit a 332-yard drive into the left bunker on 18 and, faced with a 204-yard second shot, considered having a go at the green in two. He didn’t like the lie and changed tactics, but his lay-up shot spun left into the first cut of rough.
A solid third shot landed next to the hole, ran up the slope in the middle of the green and somehow didn’t roll back. He two-putted from 33 feet for par.
”The ball didn’t roll back like I thought, but I gave myself a chance for birdie again,” he said.
DeChambeau has stuck to the same strategy he used to win at Winged Foot last year, hitting driver on nearly every hole and chopping it out when he does find the gnarled rough. Some of his wildest drives have ended up in good lies where fans have trampled down the grass, which, not surprisingly, are a part of the calculations in golf’s most deductive mind.
”That was all part of the strategy,” he said. ”I knew that there was going to be people walking and trampling, and if it was a bad lie, I can still run it to the front of the green and hit it out from there.”
The brawn-and-brain strategy led to the first 67 in major-championship rounds without a bogey for DeChambeau, putting him in position to join Koepka and Curtis Strange as the only players in the past 50 years to win consecutive U.S. Opens.
That Koepka didn’t make a move Saturday – he shot 71 on a day ideal for scoring – had to add to DeChambeau’s joy, even if he didn’t say it.
”There’s going to be Team Bryson, Team Brooks out there, and hey, keep it up,” DeChambeau said. ”I’m happy about it.”
He’ll be even happier on Sunday if he can get the last word with a second straight U.S. Open.