Thomas Makes Major History on a day of Sensational Scoring
Post by Sports Writer Derek Clements
On a day the like of which the US Open has never seen before, Tommy Fleetwood kept his head, hit fairways and holed the putts that mattered to maintain his challenge in the US Open at Erin Hills. He was the sole player flying the flag for Europe as America's young guns finally got their act together and showed just why the future of the game in the United States looks to be in such great shape. Justin Thomas, Patrick Reed, Brooks Koepka and Rickie Fowler have been hailed as potential major winners and they are all in the mix going into the final round.
If Fleetwood is going to win his first major then he is going to have to do it the hard way after Thomas, one of America’s most talented young stars, shot a sensational and record-breaking round of 63, nine under par, that may carry him to victory.
Thomas concluded in style. At the 667-yard 18th hole, his drive split the fairway and his approach, lashed with a three-wood, finished eight feet from the hole. He duly holed his eagle putt for a 63, nine under par and a course record.That set the leading mark at 11 under par and made Thomas an instant favourite.
Player after player challenged for the lead, with Patrick Reed rocketing through the field to move to eight under par thanks to a glorious round of 65. The American has had a miserable season to date but looked right at home in the heat of battle. He had eight birdies and one dropped shot, and should also have picked up a shot on the final green, where he missed a six-foot putt.
The wheels came off for Paul Casey at the third. After picking up a birdie at the opening hole, he put his approach into thick rough. He failed to move the ball with his third stroke, hacked it off the front with his fourth and took three more to complete the hole, In the blink of an eye, he went from one off the lead at eight under, to four behind, and he continued to tumble down the leaderboard.
At that point Charley Hoffman was the unexpected front runner. The American, who was sweating profusely in the humid conditions, was as cool as a cucumber as he birdied the first, second, fifth, seventh and eighth holes to take a one-shot lead at nine under. He dropped his first shot of the day at the 10th and found himself in a four-way tied for the lead with Reed, Fleetwood and Koepka, a young American who seems to have been born to win his national Open.
There were charges from Thomas and Louis Oosthuizen. The South African got it to five under par for the day and was bang in contention until he stumbled towards the end of the round. As is his wont, the putter let him down when it mattered most. Thomas had six birdes on the front nine and one dropped shot as he reached the turn in 31 to move to seven under, and he was still only one behind the leaders midway through his back nine.
But he wasn't finished. He birdied the 12th, 15th and 17th holes and then produced a fantastic approach to the final green to give himself that eagle put. His 63 equalled the lowest score in major history but was the best in relation to par. Thomas is a prodigious ball striker and a great front runner who has already shot a 59 this season. He will take some beating today.
"I feel comfortable being in this position," he said. "It has come early in my career, earlier than I expected. I am excited at the opportunity of winning my first major and I just want to go out and have a good time in the final round, even though I know I will be nervous."
Brian Harman, the little left-hander, was expected to fade. But he had other ideas. He may not hit the ball as far as many of his fellow competitors, but he has a wonderful touch around the greens and holed several superb putts, birdies at the first, fourth and ninth holes keeping him in contention, just a couple of shots behind Thomas, who was long finished and could sit back and enjoy the view from the top of the leaderboard.
Before a ball was struck in anger there were concerns about the fitness of Erin Hills as a US Open venue. It has turned out to be one of the best - and fairest - layouts chosen by the USGA in recent years., After the shambles that was Chambers Bay, this has been a blessed relief. Wayward drives have been punished - as they should be - as have poor approach shots, but fabulous scores are there to be made for those who put the ball in the correct places. Just ask Thomas and Reed.
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