Tournament organisers admitted they went “too far” with the set-up of Shinnecock Hills after a day of “carnage” in the 118th US Open.
Only three players broke par in the third round and scores of 66 early in the day were enough to lift Americans Tony Finau and Daniel Berger from a tie for 45th to a share of the lead on three over par with defending champion Brooks Koepka and overnight leader Dustin Johnson.
England’s Justin Rose was a shot off the pace after a 73, with Henrik Stenson a stroke further back and Masters champion Patrick Reed and Ryder Cup captain Jim Furyk on seven over alongside Thailand’s Kiradech Aphibarnrat, whose 68 lifted him from joint last to a tie for seventh.
“We want the US Open to be tough, a complete test, but there’s no doubt it was a tale of two golf courses,” said USGA chief executive Mike Davis. “We will admit there were some aspects of the set-up where we went too far in that well-executed shots were not rewarded and in some cases penalised.”
However, that cut little ice with Ian Poulter, who responded angrily to Davis’s comments following a 76 that left him four shots off the lead.
“Is that an apology?” Poulter wrote on Twitter. “Just grow a set of b*lls and say we £E¥#ed it up again... You don’t get mulligan’s in business at this level. how can this team keep doing this without consequences.”
Stenson said the USGA “never fail to fail” while Spain’s Rafa Cabrera wrote on Twitter: “Painful finish with a 7 at the last that ruins a pretty decent day. Regardless, it was not a fair test of golf.
“Greens were unplayable, with unnecessary pin positions. @USGA found a way to make us look like fools on the course. A pity they manage to destroy a beautiful golf course.”
The last time Shinnecock Hills hosted the event in 2004 play had to be suspended during the final round – in which 28 of the 66 players amazingly failed to break 80 – to water the seventh green, with only the winner Retief Goosen and runner-up Phil Mickelson finishing under par.
Meanwhile, Mickelson was mired in controversy on Saturday surrounding his two-shot penalty in the third round.
Mickelson told his critics to “toughen up” after admitting he deliberately hit a moving ball to gain an advantage.
The five-time major winner, who was already four over par for the day on his 48th birthday, badly overhit a putt on the 13th green that was set to roll off the putting surface.
However, he prevented that happening by running after the ball and hitting it while it was still rolling, a breach of rule 14-5 which incurs a two-shot penalty.
A number of fellow professionals felt Mickelson should have been disqualified or withdrawn himself, but he took his place in the field for the final round.
Yesterday Mickelson made par on the 13th for a six-shot improvement from round three before raising his arms in mock triumph.