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Matt Fitzpatrick and Will Zalatoris lead as McIlroy clings on at US Open

Matt Fitzpatrick and Will Zalatoris lead as McIlroy clings on at US Open

By Monday morning, there could be plans for a Matt Fitzpatrick statue in Brookline. Success in both the US Amateur Championship and the US Open at the Country Club, aswhich is now within Fitzpatrick’s grasp, would be quite the feat.

Fitzpatrick, who endured a turbulent Sunday at last month’s US PGA Championship, is hot in pursuit of glory on his next major start. The Yorkshireman, whose amateur win came at this illustrious venue in 2013, will start day four in a tie for the lead. At four under par, Fitzpatrick has Will Zalatoris for company. History favours Fitzpatrick.

To his credit, Fitzpatrick spoke confidently about the impact of nine years ago. “I certainly think it gives me an edge over the others, yeah,” he said. “I genuinely do believe that. It’s a real, obviously, positive moment in my career. It kind of kickstarted me.

“To come back here and play so well again, it kind of just gives me growing confidence round by round.”

Jon Rahm had reached the 18th tee at five under par. Bunker trouble – and a double bogey – followed. The defending champion’s one-over-par 71 means he is one shy of the leading duo.

Zalatoris was even closer than Fitzpatrick to a US PGA win, having lost in the playoff at Southern Hills to Justin Thomas. A 67 for Zalatoris was the performance of day three. Curiously, the 25-year-old has five top-10 finishes in seven major starts but is yet to win a mainstream tour event.

“The US PGA gave me a lot of belief and confidence that I belong in this situation,” Zalatoris said. “There’s a difference in thinking it and then actually being in the situation and believing it. So I think that’s probably the biggest change. That US PGA really made me feel that I can be one of the world-class players.”

Jon Rahm comes a-cropper on the 18th, hitting the edge of the bunker when playing out, leading to a double bogey
Jon Rahm comes a-cropper on the 18th, hitting the edge of the bunker when playing out, leading to a double bogey. Photograph: Julio Cortez/AP

Rory McIlroy’s 73 left him three from the lead and therefore still very much in touch. The wild nature of the US Open was emphasised by Scottie Scheffler, who holed out for an eagle on the 8th which afforded him a two-shot lead at six under. By the 15th tee, the world No 1 was minus one. Scheffler closed at two under after a 71. Adam Hadwin and Keegan Bradley are on the same score.

The frustrations associated with a typically fierce US Open setup were embodied by the behaviour of Thomas. The US PGA champion’s ball came to rest inches from a drain in the middle of the 4th fairway. Thomas would have been granted free relief were the drain interfering with his stance or the line of his swing; a referee determined neither applied.

Thomas made his annoyance perfectly plain, while casting aspersions towards how many of his fellow professionals would have behaved if placed in the same movie.

“That’s what pisses me off,” Thomas said to his caddie, Jim “Bones” Mackay. “So many other people would lie about being able to hit that, but it’s just like: ‘I’m not going to hit it.’ That’s fucking bullshit, man.” Thomas tossed his club away for good measure.

After signing for a 72, as left him at plus three, Thomas elaborated on the situation. “To me it was around a drain and very clearly my stance and my ball was sitting differently than it would be if that drain was not there,” he said. “I called an official to get a ruling on it, and in the spirit of the game, I wasn’t going to hit the drain. I felt like I very easily could have told her that I was going to and gotten a free drop, but I wasn’t.

“It’s unfortunate because it was a great drive and I had a pitching wedge in my hands. I could only hit the ball 100 yards. I mean, it’s very clear that my stance and where my ball was was altered and sitting badly because of that drain, but I didn’t get a drop from it. That’s just how it is. You have to be able to hit the drain to get a drop.”

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    In a statement, the United States Golf Association said: “During the discussion, Justin was asked if the drain was going to interfere with his swing, to which he replied it was not. Because there was no interference from the drain, Justin was not provided relief. Rule 16.1a(1) states that interference from an immovable obstruction exists when the ball touches or is in or on the obstruction, or the obstruction physically interferes with the player’s area of intended stance or area of intended swing. The rule goes on to state that if the obstruction is close enough to distract the player but does not otherwise interfere, there is no relief under the rule.”

    Thomas will not feel he is completely without hope of claiming back-to-back majors. Justin Rose’s race appears all but run after a 74 shuffled him back to plus five. Brooks Koepka’s 75 means he has matched Rose’s 54-hole total.

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