There is a name the pro golfers give to the third round, the Saturday round of a tournament. They call it "Moving Day." The golfers who are left have all made the cut, so that anxiety is behind them. Now they are playing to put themselves in position to win the tournament, and they are at their most aggressive. They're going for birdies not pars, shooting at flagsticks not greens. "There isn't any reason not to try to win because there isn't any real difference between finishing 11th or 12th," explained Mark McCumber. "So on Saturday any good player will make a concentrated effort to really grind."
Which is exactly what happened in the "Moving Day" round of the U.S. Open. Seeing that the weather wouldn't hurt them, players attacked Shinnecock Hills hoping to torch it in such flaming red that they'd have to call in the fire department.
"We're nearing the end of the tournament, and there's a lot of guys trying to get to the end on top," said Hal Sutton.
The barrage was impressive. Through the first two rounds a total of 309 scores were turned in and only nine were under par. On this third round 70 scores were posted and 17 were in the minus pool. Players were throwing themselves furiously at the leader board like salmon swimming upstream to spawn.
"Most of us were so far over par what else could we do?" asked Lennie Clements. Sutton leaped up. Mike Reid leaped up. Scott Verplank, in his first tournament as a pro, leaped up, too. The big fish such as Nicklaus, Ballesteros and Crenshaw moved up, and the little fish such as McCumber, Clements and amateur Sam Randolph moved with them.
Yet for all the pushing and shoving, the combustion had been internal. Steam rose, but didn't escape. At the end of the round there was Greg Norman still in first, albeit limping, and Lee Trevino still tied for second, the same spots they held after the second round. In the vernacular of Moving Day: while the packing crates had been more tightly bunched together, the vans hadn't actually rolled out. There are 14 guys within four shots of the lead. As they ought to say in the plastic wrap commercials: It doesn't get any tighter than this.
Oddly, so many of the golfers who tried to make the Great Jump Forward got good height early but didn't carry much distance. The back nine was where they fell to earth, and there is some question whether the going up was worth the coming down. McCumber was saying how ABC's Jack Whitaker, a Shinnecock member, had warned him that the course doesn't begin until No. 9. "There's some truth to that," McCumber conceded. He was himself a victim, being four under for the day after seven holes, then giving two back with bogeys on 16 and 18. Why the late problems? "First of all, Shinnecock is an unending test," he said respectfully. "Second of all, this is the United States Open. This isn't the Ojai club championship."
Want another back nine casualty? How about Norman? With a good round he could have run away and hid from the field; no less an authority than Nicklaus said that. But Norman, who was 2 under on the day at the turn, bogeyed 10 and double bogeyed 13 to keep himself catchable. Give him a demerit for missed opportunity. "Greg will replay 13 in his head," said Ben Crenshaw, "and he'll say, 'Damn it, I can par that hole every time I play.' Everybody anguishes over their mistakes."
By the same token give Crenshaw a demerit for missed opportunity. His eagle on 14 put him 4 under for the day. But he double bogeyed 15 and bogeyed 16, virtually giving it all back. "It's the strain of the championship," he said. "There's so much rough out there. It finally gets to where you get restricted in your movements. It's like there are lakes on both sides. It's just devastating."
Nicklaus and Ballesteros, too, were hurt on the back nine. Nicklaus might well have had a 64 but for 11 and 12, where he missed very makeable birdies, and 13, where he three-putted. "I just gave three shots away," he said in disgust. Ballesteros was 4 under for the day after eight, but bogeyed 11 and double-bogeyed 17. "Seventeen killed me almost," Ballesteros said, hanging his head briefly before coming up smiling, saying, "except I am not dead," and talking about how a 65 on Sunday can win the whole deal for him.
Knowns and unknowns faltered coming home. Bernhard Langer birdied 1 and 2 but was 2 over on the back side. The Watsons, Tom and Denis, each lost a stroke there. So did Raymond Floyd. Clements was 5 under on the day after eight and thinking 63, but he couldn't hold on and finished 67, a score he'd gladly take any day, of course, but a disappointment on this day nonetheless.
Only Sutton pounced on the back nine, birdieing 10, 11, 15 and 17. "I'd have taken birdies wherever I could get them," the former PGA winner said. "I was a late mover, but at least I did move finally." Where others stumbled, Sutton soared. "That's what it takes," Clements said admiringly of Sutton. "The guy who wins this tournament has to play aggressively on the back nine."
A good finish like that not only put Sutton in position to win, but put him, as Crenshaw observed, "in a better frame of mind about the tournament" than almost everybody. On Moving Day, Sutton shot 66, and said he didn't think that was "a particularly low score on this golf course" in a tone that suggested he had a much smaller number in mind for Sunday.