Thomas shoots sparkling 63, trails Harman by one at US Open
Thomas shoots sparkling 63, trails Harman by one at US Open
All it took was a 9-under 63, the lowest round to par in a major long known as the toughest test in golf. Thomas capped off his record day on the 667-yard 18th hole at Erin Hills with the prettiest 3-wood he ever hit, stopping 8 feet away on a green where some players struggled to land a wedge.
He made the eagle to get his name in the record book Saturday.
The lead, however, belonged to Brian Harman.
Harman closed with two birdies and three tough pars for a 5-under 67 that gave him a one-shot lead at 12-under 204.
“Yeah, 12 under, I’d have about a 10-shot lead in most Opens,” he said.
Not this one.
Not even close.
Erin Hills again lacked enough wind to be the stern test the US Open wants, and it showed. There were 18 rounds in the 60s on Saturday. Going into the final round, 42 players were still under par.
“Usually when you shoot even in a US Open and you’re one off the lead, you’re not six down afterward,” J.B. Holmes said.
In the 116 previous US Opens, only six players had ever reached 10-under par or better, never in the same tournament. By the end of a wild and wide-open Saturday, five players were double digits under par.
Brooks Koepka made three birdies over his last seven holes for a 68 and joined Thomas one shot out of the lead.
Also at 11 under was Tommy Fleetwood, who was poised to take the lead until his pitch came up short, his next shot went 60 feet down a slope on the back of the 18th green and he turned potential birdie into bogey and settled for a 68.
Rickie Fowler, on the verge of being left behind, rallied with three straight birdies and shot 68. He was 10 under, only two shots behind.
“It’s going to be a really cool day for someone tomorrow,” Fowler said. “I’m looking forward to my shot at it. I’ve been there a handful of times and had some good finishes. But I’m looking forward to getting the job done.”
Thomas finished in style, and it had nothing to do with his hot pink pants. He had 310 yards to the hole when he hit 3-wood that could have led to big trouble if he went too far long or left. “Oh gosh, Jimmy, be good,” he said to caddie Jimmy Johnson when the ball was in the air, and it was close to perfect.
Thomas poured in the eagle to become the 29th player with a 63 in a major championship.
“The finish was awesome. I’d love to have another one of those,” Thomas said.
He might need one at this rate. About all that save Erin Hills from another onslaught was a forecast for the strongest wind of the week. Regardless of the weather, it did not take long for the 24-year-old Thomas to understand the significance of his record round.
“That means I’m a part of history,” he said. “It means I have a lot better chance to win the tournament than I did when the day started. I felt like I’ve been playing pretty well all week, and didn’t have quite the numbers to show for it. Obviously, today I definitely had something to show for it.”
Thomas, a major away from joining the young elite in golf, only added to a year of low numbers. He made an eagle on his final hole at the Sony Open in January to shoot 59, and he went on to break the PGA Tour’s 72-hole scoring record.
The US Open did not seem to faze him, and he delivered a variety of big shots that led to his sensational finish.
He rolled in an 18-foot birdie putt on No. 5 from the edge of the green that broke so severely that he stood with his toes facing the hole and rapped the ball toward his left foot. It took a hard turn to the right and rolled in. In the hay left of the 12th fairway, he gouged it out with a 9-iron and watched it roll to 10 feet.
And with the tees moved up on the 15th hole to make it reachable, Thomas hit a 3-wood that rolled off the back slope of the green to 6 feet. He two-putted for birdie, and he rolled in a 25-foot birdie putt on the 17th.
“It doesn’t matter how long, how whatever the course is,” Thomas said about the longest course in major championship history. “When you give us soft greens, good greens and not much wind, you know there are going to be some good scores. I was just happy that I was the one that was able to take advantage of it today.”
But the work is not done.
Of the five other players who shot a 63 in the third round at a major, none went on to win. Most of them had to come from far back going into the weekend, and it was difficult to put together two good rounds.
Then again, none of the top 16 on the leaderboard has ever won a major.
“Someone has a very good chance of ending up with their first major tomorrow,” Fowler said.
The man who fell to earth
When Mohamed Salah went down clutching his left shoulder following a tangle with Real Madrid captain Sergio Ramos less than 30 minutes into a dramatic Champions League final, the entire population of Egypt — 96 million people — had their hearts in their mouths.
Moments later, forced off by injury, the Liverpool star left the field in tears — and the Arab world cried with him.
Forget that Real Madrid won 3-1 and Gareth Bale scored the goal of a lifetime. Salah’s big night had lasted just 29 minutes and the fear was his World Cup might not even last that long. The initial diagnosis was poor. Salah’s participation in this summer’s tournament in Russia appeared to be in grave doubt.
“It’s a really serious injury,” said Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp in the aftermath. “He is in hospital for an X-ray. It’s either the collarbone or the shoulder itself. It doesn’t look good.”
His left arm in a sling, Salah was seen after the game in the bowels of the stadium posing for a photograph with the celebrity chef Salt Bae. But the mild-mannered superstar who has barely stopped smiling this season could barely manage a grin. His mind was elsewhere.
“Honestly, I think it’s a nightmare,” Egyptian football journalist Marwan Ahmed told the BBC. “There are no words to describe it. There was a minute of silence after we saw Salah go down. When he went down the second time, we knew it wasn’t good and that he would leave the pitch. No Egyptian wanted to see that happen. We’ve never had an Egyptian in the Champions League final. It’s sad — I can’t find the exact words to describe it. Some people were in tears.”
The Egyptian FA optimistically tweeted that Salah’s X-ray showed he had a “sprain in the shoulder ligaments” and that it was “optimistic” he would be fit for the Russia tournament, which starts on June 14.
Richard Collinge, a former head of medical at a Premier League club in the UK, believes Salah’s involvement in the World Cup will depend on whether he has sustained a fracture or a less severe injury. Collinge has watched the incident again and again.
“It’s not Ramos pulling the arm that causes the injury,” he said. “It’s the force of landing on the left shoulder, and possibly Ramos then landing on top of Salah, that is the problem. Potential structures injured could be the clavicle (collarbone) or shoulder joint itself (dislocation or temporary loss of joint congruence called a subluxation),” Collinge told Arab News.
“Looking at what he is pointing to and rubbing, the acromioclavicular (joint) could be the issue here. Depending on the amount of soft-tissue damage to the joint, surgery may be needed, but this decision could be made only after scanning the area,” he said
If there was no fracture, and damage to the joint and soft tissue was not too extensive, a pain management and strengthening program could ensure Salah still makes the World Cup.
“However, a fracture, dislocation or surgery will make playing highly unlikely,” Collinge said.
The news got better as the hours passed, the outlook more positive. The Egypt national team’s doctor, Mohamed Abou Al-Ela, “expressed his optimism that Salah would make it to the World Cup matches according to this diagnosis,” the Egypt Football Association said.
The Egyptian Sports Minister, Khaled Abd Elaziz, also sounded upbeat. “Mohamed Salah, god willing, will be on the national team’s final list for the World Cup, which is to be announced on June 4,” he said on Facebook.
Salah’s departure from the field in tears had echoes of the abiding image from the 1990 World Cup when Paul Gascoigne was inconsolable after picking up a yellow card that meant he would miss the final if England made it through their semi. Just as Gary Lineker consoled Gascoigne, Cristiano Ronaldo was on hand to put a comforting arm around the disconsolate Salah. At least Gascoigne made it to the semifinal. Salah will be lucky to make the opening group game against Uruguay on June 15.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this. This Champions League final was to be the renaissance of Klopp’s Liverpool and the coronation of Salah’s swashbuckling season. He had grinned so broadly moments before kick-off. So had Klopp and strike partner Sadio Mane.
Salah shook Ronaldo’s hand and prayed. Immediately, Liverpool tried to accelerate away from the reigning European Champions. Within 25 seconds, Salah demonstrated his versatility. He turned provider for Mane, but Raphael Varane mopped up with a crucial intervention inside the Spanish box. Liverpool were endearingly excited about the final and Salah was no different.
The game had been billed as Salah versus Ronaldo, but that clash was now of secondary importance. Salah, an athlete at the top of his profession — scaling new heights — had been denied the chance to shine and excel on Europe’s biggest stage. His breathtaking season ended in a nightmare. With Salah’s departure, the romance ebbed out of the final.
In Cairo, sadness and anger filled the cafes where Salah’s legion of fans gathered to watch the final. After injury forced him off the pitch, many began cheering for Real Madrid, saying they had been supporting Liverpool only for Salah.
“He is the son of our country, we are sad when anything happens to him,” Abdel-Aziz Abdel-Fattah, a 27-year-old engineer, told an AFP reporter.
“We were only supporting Liverpool for Salah,” said Mahmoud Saad, a 33-year-old director of a tourism company.
Such is the importance of Salah to Egypt’s World Cup hopes — he has scored 33 goals in 57 games — that the state of his left shoulder will dominate the nation’s news bulletins. Indeed, it says plenty about Salah’s global status that his injury has made worldwide headlines.
As well as the potential sporting ramifications for Egypt, there will be financial implications for blue-chip companies such as Vodafone and DHL, which are paying Salah handsomely to promote their products and brands. Ramy Abbas, Salah’s agent, and MS Commercial, Cayman, the company that owns Salah’s image rights, will also be counting the cost if he misses out on Russia 2018.
Egypt don’t have to name their 23-man squad until June 4, so they are likely to give Salah as much time as possible to recover.
The Kuwait coach, Radojko Avramovic, told Arab News earlier this week that Egypt are far from a one-man team. “Salah is a great player, but Egypt didn’t qualify for the World Cup just because of him — he is not superman. They have lots of good players.”
They do, but none who can change a game quite as dramatically or with such rare gifts.
Following David Beckham’s injury in 2002, a national newspaper in Britain called on its readers to place their hands on a picture of the England captain and pray for his speedy recovery.
Egyptians, you suspect, will be doing a similar thing up and down the land as they anxiously await medical bulletins on their national hero.