LA JOLLA, Calif. -- It appears as if Bryson DeChambeau has solved the modern U.S. Open. That does not mean he's going to win them all, and it does not even mean he's going to win on Sunday at Torrey Pines where he's two back with 18 holes to go, but his game was (perhaps unintentionally) rebuilt to contend for a full set of these trophies into the future.
DeChambeau shot a startling 3-under 68 -- his first bogey-free round in major competition -- on Saturday that got him within two of the three-way lead between Mackenzie Hughes, Louis Oosthuizen and Russell Henley. After hitting 15 of 18 greens in regulation, he's now best situated of all the golfers chasing that trio to pull off another major and become just the eighth golfer to win back to back U.S. Opens. We'll get to DeChambeau in a minute, but first, let's look at the chances those top three have of winning the 121st U.S. Open. (Odds via William Hill Sportsbook)
Mackenzie Hughes (-5): This one is a stunner. Hughes shot 68 on Saturday even though he's never finished in the top 50 in a major and came in having missed his last five cuts on the PGA Tour. Of everyone in the top 13 on this leaderboard, you could make the case the he would have been (by far) the most surprising champion on Sunday evening. He's a good player, but you can still make a variation of that case with him leading and just one round to go. Odds: 9-1
Louis Oosthuizen (-5): Oosthuizen is the betting favorite, and after five runner-up finishes at majors, he's due to grab one. He made an eagle at the last hole to get into the final pairing with Hughes (Henley will play with Rory McIlroy). I'm wary of him at the end of majors because I can read his Wikipedia page, but a second major at some point seems inevitable on paper. One thing he said on Saturday stood out to me about how you lose a bit of innocence at majors when you get older. "Definitely a lot more patient [at majors] than what I was when I was young," said Oosthuizen. "I think I was too dumb really when I won the Open [in 2010] to get nervous and to know what was going on." Oosthuizen was saying this as a good thing that he's grown in maturity as a player, and on its face, it is a good thing. But sometimes I wonder if it's not easier to win majors when you are too dumb to know what was going on. Odds: 15/4
Russell Henley (-5): Henley has staying power. He's a good player who strikes the ball well and is not out over his skis with a hot putter this week. Like Hughes, there's some concern about the fact that he has not really been in this position before. With no top 10s at major championships, the tournament he feels on Sunday is going to be a lot different than the one he felt in any of the previous three days. Odds: 15/2
While Hughes, Oosty and Henley are two shots clear of the field, 58 of the last 60 U.S. Open winners have come from within four strokes on Sunday to capture the national championship. Here's who can catch those co-leaders, starting with the Big Boy himself.
Bryson DeChambeau (-3): He led the field in both driving distance (334 yards) and greens in regulation (89%) on Saturday, and he was nearly last in fairways hit. This is how modern U.S. Opens are won. Gone are the days where the rough is so penal that you are sweating over how many fairways you hit off the tee. These are the days where you can tell how good or bad a drive was on a launch monitor and figure out the rest later on. He said the quiet part out loud on Saturday evening at Torrey.
"It's kind of the way the course was set up," he said. "When I miss it because I hit it pretty far, I'm going to miss it off line quite a bit. So that plays kind of into my advantage a little bit more because where the people are walking, it's trampled down and you get some good lies out of that. No. 4 is a great example out here today. I was able to hit it close. I didn't make the putt, but again, [off the tee] I hit it over to the right, it's trampled down, had a nice lie, and I was able to get it up on the top ridge. Again, that was all part of the strategy. 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. That's still the game plan, and hopefully I get lucky tomorrow again."
Did you hear that? He's purposely aiming for trampled-down areas of the course and blasting away. He's not even considering hitting fairways. It's not easy to become the longest driver in the world, nor is having the short game he has an inevitability; however, if you can attain both realities, the strategy from there is not all that complex. Winning U.S. Opens for him is dependent on what he does with second shots. On Thursday, he was terrible. On Saturday, he was perfect.
Now he's given himself a real rip at U.S. Open No. 2 on Sunday as he'll play in the third-to-last pairing with Scottie Scheffler. DeChambeau's 73 on Thursday gave him less room for error over the final 54 holes, but he's been mostly flawless since then (eighth in strokes gained on Friday, third on Saturday). He'll again apply the strategy of getting it as close to the green as possible in the least penal position and pounding the center of greens into the Pacific Ocean. If it works again on Sunday, he'll have pulled even with Brooks Koepka in U.S. Open trophies.
Rory McIlroy (-3): McIlroy has never trailed by either one or two strokes going into the final round of a major, according to Ben Coley. He's either led or been three or more back. That's bizarre for somebody who has as many top 10s at majors (22) as the rest of the top eight on this leaderboard combined. Rory hit the absolute hell out of the ball on Saturday, and his approach number prove it (fourth in greens in regulation). If that continues -- because it's been an issue over the last year or so -- he'll be leading come the last few holes on Sunday.
McIlroy is a show pony -- one of the best of all time -- but he's going to have get his hands grimy to grab major No. 5 and tie Seve Ballesteros and Byron Nelson on the all-time major wins list. Doing that at an age younger than Phil Mickelson (six major wins) was when he grabbed his first would be truly astonishing. Whether he actually can win a U.S. Open like that remains to be seen. He's been an amazing frontrunner but never escaped a Sunday brawl with a trophy. If he does start to win that way as his career wears on, we could be in for an entirely different (and unexpected) rendition of him over this next decade. It would be a welcome one given his (still) outrageous trajectory.
Jon Rahm (-2): Rahm was a disappointment on Saturday given that those ahead of him didn't run away and hide. He putted horrifically (nearly last in the field) and has been the worst putter of anybody in this top eight through three rounds. Rahm is normally a terrific putter, and it's easy to envision him hitting everything on Sunday to correct to his normal average. He's easily the player beyond the top five who is poised to make the biggest move in Round 4. Rahm is still looking for his first major, and he was not only the pre-tournament favorite but held that position after 18 and 36 holes at Torrey Pines.
Matthew Wolff (-2): It started to unwind a bit for Wolff late as he made two bogeys over his last five holes. It's been an amazing week for him, one he should draw from for the rest of the year, but the tee-to-green game seems just a tad too loose right now for him to pull off a victory on Sunday. Still, two straight top 10s to start a U.S. Open career would be amazing.
Scottie Scheffler (-2): He leads the field in putting which is mildly disconcerting because I'm not sure it can continue for all 72 holes. I love Scheffler as a player (he has as many top 10s at majors as DeChambeau does), but I think he has the worst chance of anyone in this top eight of walking away with a win on Sunday.