Koepka, Stenson lead as Johnson falters at US Open

Dustin Johnson of the United States waves to the crowd after making a birdie on the seventh hole during the second round of the 2018 US Open at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club on June 15, 2018 in Southampton, New York. (AFP pic)

SOUTHAMPTON: Dustin Johnson unravelled on the front nine at a sun-baked Shinnecock Hills on Saturday as defending champion Brooks Koepka and Henrik Stenson shared the lead in the third round of the US Open.

Johnson was the only player under par through the first two punishing rounds, taking a four-stroke lead into the third at four-under par.

But the world number one took his first double-bogey of the week at the par-three second. A bogey at the fourth was followed by three straight bogeys at six, seven and eight to make the turn six-over for the day and two-over for the tournament.

He was one shot off the lead of Koepka and Stenson.

Koepka started the day five adrift and opened with a bogey. He got to one-under for the day — even for the tournament — after birdies at two and 11 but gave a stroke back at the 12th.

Stenson was even for the day through 11 after one birdie and one bogey.

England’s Justin Rose also got to even for the tournament with a chip-in birdie at the third, but he slid back with three straight bogeys at eight, nine and 10.

Shinnecock had shown a softer side early Saturday, when Daniel Berger posted a four-under-par 66 to climb the leaderboard.

But the two-time US PGA Tour winner said the course was firming up and getting harder as his round wore on.

“I think it’s going to be extremely difficult,” said Berger, who was in the clubhouse on three-over-par 213. “If someone shoots four-under this afternoon it’s more like eight-under.”

Berger rolled in birdie putts of 30 feet, 23 feet and 26 feet, finishing with six birdies and flirting with a 65 that would have been the best ever US Open round at Shinnecock.

But Berger said pin placements near the borders of the sloping greens were particularly challenging.

“You hit one by, three feet past the hole and it’s going 40 yards away from the green,” he said.

“There’s just so many run-offs, and you have these small little landing targets of 10 feet where you actually have a chance to have a birdie putt,” Berger added.

“I hit plenty of really good shots in there. I hit one on the par five, number five, that I landed 10 feet from the hole, and it ended up 50 yards away. So that’s just how it is out here.”

Mickelson madness?

That may have been what led to Phil Mickelson’s astonishing performance at the 13th green — where after watching his bogey putt roll past the cup and head down a hill he ran over and batted the still moving ball back toward the hole.

With the two-stroke penalty Mickelson took a sextuple bogey 10.

Playing partner Andrew Johnston called it a “moment of madness” but Mickelson, a five-time major champion, insisted it wasn’t just a display of petulance.

Instead, he said, he decided the two-stroke penalty he knew he would receive would be preferable to letting the ball escape off the green.

“Look, I don’t mean disrespect to anybody,” he said. “I know it’s a two-shot penalty. At that time, I just didn’t feel like going back and forth and hitting the same shot over.

“It’s meant to take advantage of the rules as best as you can.”