SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. (Reuters) – American Daniel Berger vaulted onto the leaderboard when he carded a four-under-par 66 in the third round on Saturday, finishing just as the Shinnecock Hills course was showing its teeth.
Berger took advantage of his mid-morning tee time with a six-birdie sortie, finishing almost an hour before halfway leader Dustin Johnson was due to tee off.
A freshening breeze on a warm, cloudless day was baking the course dry and making for an increasingly arduous test by the time Berger was finished.
“As the day went on it continued to get more tough,” said two-times PGA Tour winner Berger, who noticed the course starting to become more difficult on about the 12th hole.
“It started to get a lot firmer and faster,” he said. “The speed of the greens picked up. It’s going to be tough (for the leaders).”
Berger’s round matched the lowest of the week, and he posted a three-over 213 total, before settling back to see what the leaders could do.
Fellow American Tony Finau also shot 66, charging with a back nine of 31 strokes to join Berger at three-over.
“I feel my game is made for championship golf,” said the extremely long-hitting Finau, who believes he is developing a complete, all-round game.
“Today I needed something special to happen to have an outside chance. Whether I do or not I’m happy with the day.”
Finau spoke just as Johnson, with a halfway total of four-under 136, teed off with a four-stroke lead over Piercy and Charley Hoffman, while a high-caliber group of five was another shot further back at one-over.
Johnson is seeking his second victory in three years, following his 2016 victory at Oakmont in 2016, his only major title to date.
He arrived at Shinnecock Hills in fine fettle after winning the PGA Tour event in Memphis last Sunday, a result that lifted him back into the world number one position.
Reporting by Andrew Both; Editing by Hugh Lawson