U.S. Open: Mad Scientist turned Mr. Popular Bryson DeChambeau leads the way

PINEHURST, N.C. — Sometime around the time that the leaders made the turn on Saturday evening at Pinehurst No. 2, the temperature started to drop. Oh, it was still warm enough to smoke brisket, but it was a pleasant change from the iron-melting temperatures earlier in the day.

The galleries that had spent an entire day in the brutal heat got what they wanted, and deserved, on the back half of Saturday’s third round of the U.S. Open. Bryson DeChambeau, golf’s newest folk hero, won the love of the entire Pinehurst gallery Saturday afternoon, pumping his fists, pointing at the grandstands, slinging balls into the crowd. And he rode that love to a three-shot lead over the field, finishing the day at -7.

“Made a lot of great putts today, I’ll tell you that,” DeChambeau said after the round. “Pleased with how I struck it for the most part. Got to work on that just a little bit, but I feel pretty confident over the tee shots.”

Earlier in the round, the day had seemed to belong to Matthieu Pavon. There’s not a whole lot of geography in Pavon’s native France that resembles the tall pines and sand-and-wiregrass rough of Pinehurst, but that didn’t seem to matter, as Pavon found a new gear on the front nine — but struggled to hold on over the back nine.

“The course is really showing its teeth so far. It’s a tough one,” Pavon said. “You feel like sometimes you are flying a little bit, your game, everything is going on, and then at some point you just miss one green, can see a bogey, and then all of a sudden it starts to be harder in your mind and in your game, and you still have to finish the round.”

Pavon came from two strokes back to catch overnight leader Ludvig Åberg, part of a chaotic wrestling match that saw five players — including DeChambeau, Finau and Rory McIlroy — spending most of the round within a stroke or two of the lead. Finally, however, Pavon, McIlroy and Patrick Cantlay ended the day at -4, with Åberg and Hideki Matsuyama ending the day at -2. Catastrophic holes, and rounds, destroyed the hopes of Tony Finau and Thomas Detry, who had been very much in the mix heading into Saturday.

“I love the test that Pinehurst is presenting, and you’ve got to focus and concentrate on every single shot out there,” McIlroy said. “It’s what a U.S. Open should be like. It’s obviously great to be in the mix.”

Most players earlier in the day sweated their way through miserable rounds. Scottie Scheffler, for instance, called U.S. Open golf a “miserable torture chamber” after his 1-over round left him at 6-over for the tournament. The one survivor: Collin Morikawa, who started the day at 4-over and ended it at even par, good enough to keep him on the fringes of the top 10.

That’s how much of a test Pinehurst presented on Saturday. Playing once again at an average of three strokes above par, No. 2 gave the USGA exactly what it’s always looking for — a fair, but unforgiving challenge. Just eight players are under par after 54 holes … and leading the way is DeChambeau by three.

The Mad Scientist turned Most Popular Player on the Course was pure entertainment. In one 60-minute stretch he …

… hit a six-iron second shot from 257 yards out into a 610-yard par 5. (He would birdie.)

… called for his “physio” guy because of apparent tightness in his hips. Here’s what that looked like:

Bryson DeChambeau gets treatment on the 11th hole during the third round of the U.S. Open golf tournament Saturday, June 15, 2024, in Pinehurst, N.C. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart)Bryson DeChambeau gets treatment on the 11th hole during the third round of the U.S. Open golf tournament Saturday, June 15, 2024, in Pinehurst, N.C. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart)

Bryson DeChambeau gets treatment on the 11th hole during the third round of the U.S. Open in Pinehurst, N.C. (AP/Mike Stewart)

… birdied the 11th with an emphatic fist pump to take a two-shot lead.

… and apologized to fans urging him to try to drive the green at 13. “Don’t boo me,” he said as he grabbed an iron. “I’m sorry.” (He’d birdie that hole, too.)

While pretty much every LIV player has turned into persona non grata since moving to the rival tour — see Phil Mickelson’s lonely walk on Friday — DeChambeau has managed to up his Q score. He’s signing autographs in the middle of his round, is racking up millions of views on YouTube and is still hitting bombs.

He finished sixth at the Masters, runner-up at the PGA Championship and will be in the final group Sunday.

Åberg, playing in his first U.S. Open, held steady until a triple at 13. After taking the lead with three birdies and no bogeys on his front nine, Pavon posted a pair of bogeys against zero birdies on the back. McIlroy had it to 6-under, but bogeys at 15 and 17 derailed an otherwise solid round.

None could match DeChambeau’s charge, even with his double bogey at 16. He’d follow that up with a birdie 2 at 17.

A par at 18 gave DeChambeau a 3-under 67, a 54-hole lead, and the best shot he’s had in a U.S. Open since he won this tournament back in 2020.

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