OAKMONT, Pa. - Bubba Watson was the leader of the U.S. Open. He was even par for the day and 1-over par for the championship after eight holes yesterday at Oakmont Country Club.
And then Bubba from Bagdad seemed to implode.
His approach shot to the par-4 ninth hole landed in this high rough left of the green. He was barely able to advance his next shot. But instead of pausing for a deep breath, he took a couple quick steps to his ball and swung again. This one was a flier, well past the flag, and it rolled onto the opposite edge of the green, against the collar. From there, Watson took three to get down for a triple-bogey 7.
"Impatient? No, no way," Watson said. "An impossible lie is an impossible lie whether you take your time or not. It was the same shot, just five feet closer. I wasn't impatient. The shot just went from tough to tougher. The first one was really fluffy and I tried to blast it like a bunker shot. The next shot, the ball was nestled even deeper. The grass grabbed my club and yanked [the ball] and it shot out of there.
"I made one bad shot all day, to be honest. I hit 5-iron from about 207 [yards] to the front, at No. 9 and pulled it left into the junk and when it was over it was a triple bogey. That's the way it goes."
To Watson's credit, he didn't proceed to free-fall off the leaderboard. He put together five straight pars and played the rest of his round in 1-over. He is at 5-over 215 after a 74 and trails leader Aaron Baddeley by three shots.
"I hung in there," said Watson, who hails from tiny Bagdad, Fla. "I just kept hitting good shots and got a bunch of bad lies. I stayed patient and played for pars. I showed that I can do it. I'm still in decent shape. If I can play 18 holes the best that I can play, then I can leave here with a trophy."
ICING ON CAKE: Steve Stricker missed three birdie putts in the eight-foot range yesterday. So he decided to remove putting from the equation on No. 18, holing his approach shot from about 75 yards for a birdie and a round of two-under 68.
"What a way to finish," he said. "I played solidly all the way, but I drove it in the edge of the bunker on the last hole. And I tried to hit a hero shot up there to the green and didn't pull it off."
So, trying to get his third shot to within 10 feet for a run at par, Stricker instead saw his lob wedge shot disappear into the cup.
"That was icing on the cake and it gives me a chance going into tomorrow," he said.
Stricker is tied for seventh at 6-over 216 with Jim Furyk and Angel Cabrera, the 36-hole leader who scored a 76 yesterday. They are four shots out of the lead.
"I have an opportunity and that's all I can ask for," Stricker said. "Prior to today, I'd been driving it in the fairway and doing everything right, but not putting the greatest. I put it together today.
"I missed some opportunities when I had little eight-footers for birdies, but I made two other birdies when it looked like I was going to make pars or bogeys. So I guess it all evened out."
Stricker has six top-10 finishes in major championships, including two in previous trips to the Open. He tied for sixth a year ago.
"Tomorrow is about handling nerves," he said. "Tomorrow is going to be tough for everybody, just like any day, but you have the nerve factor thrown in there. So you just have to go out and try to play smart and I can definitely draw on past experience."
GOOD VIBES: Justin Rose will also try to draw on experience today - recent experience.
He tied for fifth at the Masters and, in his last start, lost in a playoff at the BWM PGA Championship on the European Tour.
"The last couple big tournaments I've played in I've been in the hunt right down to the wire," said the 26-year-old Rose, who opens play today three shots out of the lead. "Augusta is probably the biggest thing I can draw on. I was one [shot] back playing No. 17. And at the BMW I finished birdie-par-birdie to get into a playoff. Hopefully, I can feed off those good vibes."
BIG HAND: Paul Casey followed his remarkable 66 in the second round with a 2-over 72. He had four birdies yesterday in an up-and-down round.
"You know, I was trying to stay in the present and think about today's round and try to keep it under par," he said. "But it isn't easy. I don't know how many under-par rounds we've had this week, but I think you can count them on one hand. Six? Oh, sorry. Well, maybe there is somebody with six fingers."
NO SLAM: Masters champ Zach Johnson is 16-over par after three rounds at Oakmont, so another bid for the elusive Grand Slam, a sweep of the four major championships, seems to have ended.
"I made one birdie in the first two days," Johnson said. "That wasn't the problem. The thing is I only had maybe two other chances. I guess I haven't been hitting my irons close enough or straight enough. It's just hard out there."
Johnson doubled his birdie total yesterday, but could do no better than a 6-over 76.
"My game has been pretty good," Johnson said. "My biggest headache is just the course setup. I mean, the golf course is the story this week."
QUOTE-UNQUOTE: "If you lose your head out there, I think you're done with. You're going to put up a big number and you've got no chance." - Jeev Milkha Singh.
THE ONESOME: Because an odd number of players, 63, made the cut, Mathew Goggin of Australia teed off first and by himself in yesterday's third round. He shot 74 and completed his round in 2 hours, 57 minutes. He said it wasn't the first time he's gone it alone.
"I've had the honor of being the worst making the cut before," he said.39.5393 -93.68264