BROOKLINE, Mass. -- Jon Rahm walked off the 17th green with venom in his eyes. He just hit a sweet little spinning wedge to a few feet and poured it in for his third consecutive 3 as well as his third birdie across four holes. Suddenly, he had the solo lead at the 2022 U.S. Open as he walked to the 18th tee box on his 54th hole of the tournament.
Three shots from bunkers at the last led to double bogey, and all the work Rahm had done across the back nine -- of a golf course that seemed to be taking out three decades' of frustration in a single day -- came undone. Rahm now sits one back entering Round 4 on Sunday, which is two strokes better than he stood last year when he went on to win his first major championship at Torrey Pines.
Rahm sounded conflicted after his third round.
"I'm very content," Rahm said. "I'm not going to lie. It's infuriating in a sense to finish that way with how good I played those holes. But like I kept telling myself, if on the 14th [hole] you tell me you can post 1 over par and not play the last five holes, I would have ran to the clubhouse because of how difficult it was playing. I would have taken it, no questions asked.
"I think I have to consider that. I have 18 holes, and I'm only one shot back. That's the important thing."
It is the important thing, and who sits ahead of Rahm matters as well. Will Zalatoris and Matt Fitzpatrick have not only combined for zero major wins but also zero PGA Tour event trophies. Rahm is thunderous, and they will surely hear his footsteps as he hoofs it home around the old horse track upon which part of The Country Club was built.
Despite bundling No. 18 and turning a one-shot lead and the final pairing into a one-shot deficit and the penultimate group, Rahm still must be considered the favorite. Though the statistical profiles of both Zalatoris and Fitzpatrick are better indicators of a champion, Rahm is a compelling champion who has the look of a man hell bent on joining Ben Hogan, Curtis Strange and Brooks Koepka as the only back-to-back champions at the U.S. Open since World War II.
That doesn't mean he'll win -- and he's not the favorite at 4-1, per Caesars Sportsbook, behind Zalatoris and Fitzpatrick -- but if you would have told me at the beginning of the week that Rahm would be one back entering Sunday, I would have said he's the guy to beat no matter who's in front of him. That he is set to chase down two players long on talent but short on major success only solidifies that fact.
However, Rahm's chaotic 3-6 finish did prove one thing. The 122nd U.S. Open is going the distance, and we won't be able to crown a champion early. I thought Rahm's birdie on No. 17 to get to 5 under in Round 3 was the beginning of the end of this tournament. That's what it felt like. As it turns out, the way he closed was a reminder that it's only now getting started.
Here are the rest of the golfers who can take home the U.S. Open on Sunday..
2. Will Zalatoris (-4, co-leader): I'm not sure this came through on television, but Brookline felt like an Open Championship on Saturday. It was colder than it should be in June and windier than anyone expected. And Zalatoris shot himself a 67. A sixty-seven! "I mean, 67 from Will out there today is unbelievable," said Rory McIlroy, who shot 73. "Such a good score."
Zalatoris has as many top 10s at majors since the start of 2021 as current top 10 players in the world Patrick Cantlay, Justin Thomas, Viktor Hovland, Sam Burns and Cameron Smith combined, so he's no stranger to this stratosphere. Being as close as he was at the 2021 Masters (lost to Hideki Matsuyama by a stroke) and 2022 PGA Championship (lost to Thomas in a playoff) should serve him well on Sunday.
3. Scottie Scheffler (-2, two back): The Masters champion had a wild Saturday. He holed out for eagle on the par-5 eighth to lead by two but ended the day trailing by two. He's trying to join Hogan, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Tiger Woods and Jordan Spieth as the only golfers to win the Masters and U.S. Open in the same year, and the best thing he has going for him is that he's leaning into the madness of this event.
"I think the U.S. Open is very taxing, mentally and physically," Scheffler said. "I think that's all part of what this makes this tournament so fun. You're going to get tested all different kinds of ways, whether it be physically, mentally, whatever it is. This golf tournament is going to test you. That's why I show up here. I think that's kind of the fun of it. If every golf tournament was like this, it would be in for a long season for all of us. A few times a year, I think it's a ton of fun."
4. Matt Fitzpatrick (-4, co-leader): The 2013 U.S. Amateur champion on this course doesn't quite have the major success Zalatoris (or certainly Scheffler) has shown, but his game has improved immensely over the last year, and he quietly hasn't made any putts so far this week. Fitzpatrick is leading the field in strokes gained tee to green and has essentially been a field average putter. If they start falling on Sunday for one of the better putters in the world, he's going to repeat what he did in 2013 on an even bigger stage and become the first non-American to win both the U.S. Am and U.S. Open.
I’m fully on board with the idea of a US Open champion who putts with the flag in from three feet out, chips cack-handed, has braces on his teeth and wears Sketchers— Jamie Weir (@jamiecweir) June 18, 2022
5. Rory McIlroy (-1, three back): McIlroy played his last 12 holes in even par when 3 over or 4 over seemed more likely. He called Saturday "one of the toughest days on a golf course I've had in a long time," and that's how it felt being out there. He pulled some Houdini-level magic on No. 13 from the woods, going up and down from 170 yards for par. He made a 9-footer on No. 15 and a 11-footer on No. 17, both for par. He dodged bogeys and then literally dodged a turkey walking down one of the holes near the end of his round. McIlroy's grand finale was a ruling on No. 18 that granted him relief from underneath a tree. He somehow had a look at birdie on that hole but settled for par and is somehow (somehow!) just three back going into Sunday.
"Even though it was such a tough day and feel like I battled well," McIlroy said. "To still only be three back going into [Sunday] I feel is a good thing for me. ... Just kept myself in the tournament. That's all I was trying to do. Just keep hanging around. I felt like I did well to get it in under par for the tournament at the end of the day."
6. Sam Burns (-1, three back): Burns has kind of been sneaking around this week and finds himself as one of just nine golfers under par. He's the only one in that group that is losing strokes off the tee, though. If that doesn't improve Sunday, he likely won't have a chance. However, Burns is a total menace and just came back from seven down to win the Charles Schwab Challenge. He'll go down swinging and should be a blast to watch in the finale.
7. Keegan Bradley (-2, two back): The New England native will be among the fan favorites on Sunday, and he's certainly hitting approach shots well enough to win. Only Scheffler and Matsuyama are gaining more strokes. Bradley is technically a major winner, but it's been a while. He won the first major he ever played and has been winless in his last 34. It wouldn't be shocking if he won on Sunday, but it would be a bit of a surprise.
"[The reception I got on No. 18 today] was one of the most amazing moments of my entire life," Bradley said. "I got to feel what it feels like to play in Fenway, to play in the [Boston] Garden, to play in Gillette Stadium. I felt like a Boston player there. That was a moment I'll never forget the rest of my life, and I appreciate the fans giving me that, and I hope to have them cheer again [Sunday]."
8. Joel Dahmen (-1, three back): The good news for Dahmen is that he beat playing partner and two-time major winner Collin Morikawa on Saturday. The bad news is that Morikawa shot 77. Dahmen did well to grind out a 74 because it got going the other way in a hurry, and he's still in it even if he needs a bit of a miracle round on Sunday to leap McIlroy, Rahm, Scheffler, Zalatoris and Fitzpatrick. "If you'd told me on Thursday morning I'd only be three back coming into Sunday of a U.S. Open ... I like where my game is at," he said. "I felt comfortable out there. Maybe I can sneak up behind them [Sunday]."
9. Adam Hadwin (-2, two back): For the second straight year, a Canadian is in the mix at the end of the U.S. Open. Though Hadwin is third in the field from tee to green so far this week, he would be the most surprising winner of the top nine.