OAKMONT, Pa. — Andrew Landry showed up for his tee time Saturday afternoon, the last one of the day, with a new logo patch hastily sewn onto the left sleeve of his shirt. Moonshine Sweet Tea of Austin – slogan: “Lip Smackin’ Good” – had cut a deal with Landry’s agent for that slice of real estate the day before, figuring the surprise U.S. Open contender, whose portfolio of endorsements was otherwise lacking, would earn the Texas company some national television time.
One of Landry’s playing partners for the third round was Dustin Johnson, the consensus pick as the best current player in the world without a major title and a golfer many fellow pros consider the most naturally talented. On Johnson’s shirt: the logos of Adidas and NetJets. In his gallery: his future father-in-law, Wayne Gretzky.
The third day of this long, slow grind of a U.S. Open turned into another exercise in attrition, with another 18-hole segment halted in mid-round and the number of players under par now dwindled down to six. It has also become a mad hunt among the hungry and the heartbroken, with none of the top seven players on the leader board owning a major title and some of them having suffered more than their share of soul-crushing defeats.
At the very top when darkness fell at Oakmont Country Club, forcing the suspension of the third round, was Shane Lowry, a thick-bearded, 29-year-old Irishman who was at 5 under par through 50 holes in his tournament, two shots up on Landry, who has played 49 holes, and three up on Lee Westwood (through 51), Johnson (49) and Sergio Garcia (50). Another shot back was South African Branden Grace, the leader in the clubhouse at 1-under 209 following a 66 on Saturday.
The 24 players who did not finish the third round Saturday will return to Oakmont at 7 a.m. Sunday to complete anywhere from one to five holes, then rest up for the final round beginning in the afternoon.
“I’m ahead with 22 holes left. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves,” Lowry said. “There are the best golfers in the world behind me. [But] this is exactly where you want to be. I’ve been beating myself up over the last six months trying to get in this position. I’m here now. I might as well enjoy it while I’m here.”
Lowry, whose biggest career victory to date came in last year’s WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, took over sole possession of the lead just after 7:30 p.m., or roughly 75 minutes before the horn sounded signaling a suspension of play, when he birdied the difficult ninth hole, while Landry, one group back, was on his way to a bogey on the same hole.
Lowry’s lead might be three entering Sunday had he not called a penalty on himself earlier Saturday – during the completion of the weather-delayed second round – when his ball moved slightly on the 16th green after he had addressed it. Rattled by the error, he wound up having to make an eight-footer there just to salvage bogey.
Three shots behind Lowry, the three players at 2 under – Johnson, Westwood and Garcia – have all at one time worn the dreaded mantle of Best Player in the World to Have Never Won a Major. Combined, they had made 170 starts in major championships entering this week with a combined nine runner-up finishes and 26 top-fives – but no wins. Just a year ago, Johnson three-putted the final green at Chambers Bay to lose the U.S. Open by one thin stroke.
On this luxury liner loaded down with baggage, Landry brought almost none of his own onboard. A victory for him might accurately be called the biggest upset in major championship history. A longtime mini-tour grinder whose biggest professional win to date was in 2015 at something called the Cartagena de Indias at Karibana Championship on the Web.com Tour, he entered the week ranked just 624th in the world. Not only had he never won a major before – he had never even made the field of one.
But on Saturday, Landry flat-out outplayed Johnson, despite being outdriven by 50 or more yards on many of the par-4s and -5s. He played nearly mistake-free golf, making his only slip-up on the ninth, when he put his approach in the death-spot to the right of the green, above the hole.
Each time he buried another midrange putt to keep himself near the top of the leader board, Landry would calmly retrieve his ball from the cup, make a small, practiced wave to the gallery and continue along his way, as if he belonged there, as if he expected it all along.
“No nerves, very comfortable,” he said later.
Other surprise first-round U.S. Open leaders usually know their place and fade back into obscurity by the weekend. But Landry may be different, his game of accurate tee shots, patient iron play and a propensity for draining knee-knocking, four- to 10-foot putts giving him the look of one of those classic U.S. Open specialists – think of Lee Janzen or Curtis Strange – who seem to contend each year in this tournament.
“I’ve played good golf on hard golf courses where par is a good score,” Landry said. “That’s just kind of been my game. It’s always been my game.”
On a leader board such as this one, where so many wear the heartache of previous failures, it may not be a disadvantage to be without baggage. Unlike some of the other names up there, Landry seems to have no idea whatsoever that he isn’t supposed to win.