ARDMORE, Pa. -- Among the Saturday surprises at Merion was the charge up the board by 19-year-old amateur Michael Kim, who plays college golf for California-Berkeley, where his father is a professor. Born in South Korea before moving to the United States at age 7, Kim had a magical run of four birdies on his first six back-nine holes to get back to even par and push within two shots of the lead at the time.
Unfortunately, Kim could not sustain that torrid play, finishing bogey-double bogey-bogey in his last three holes. Nevertheless, he still seems assured of becoming low amateur in the field. He posted a round of 1-over-par 71 and was at 4-over 214 when play ended, five shots ahead of Cheng-Tsung Pan, 21, of Taiwan, an amateur who plays for the University of Washington.
Kim, who finished tied for 49th two weeks ago in the NCAA championship in Milton, Ga., will start the final round five shots off the lead. The last amateur to win America’s national championship of golf was Johnny Goodman in 1933. The best amateur finish since then was Jack Nicklaus taking second in the 1960 Open at Cherry Hills in the Denver suburbs, beaten in the end by Arnold Palmer.
“I kept looking at the leaderboard, not because I wanted to know how I was doing in the tournament,” he said. “But it was so cool to see my name next to those names like [ Phil] Mickelson, [ Luke] Donald, [ Charl] Schwartzel. It was just an incredible feeling. I didn’t know what to expect coming in. Honestly, I just wanted to make the cut. I didn’t feel that nervous, but I definitely think I was looking back on it.”
A Day in the sun
Australia’s Jason Day apparently is growing accustomed to golf’s biggest stages, a trait he exhibited again Saturday when he posted a 68, capped off with a bogey on his last hole, that vaulted him up the board and into possible contention. He’s now at 2-over 212, three shots out of the lead.
Day was runner-up at the Masters and the U.S. Open at Congressional in 2011, and he was in the hunt on the back nine Sunday in the most recent Masters before stumbling down the stretch and finishing third, two shots out of the playoff between Adam Scott and Angel Cabrera that was won by Scott.
“The majors are kind of where it’s at,” Day said after his third round. “I think that it really defines a career. You’re playing against the best players in the world at the highest level on the toughest golf courses. I really enjoy playing in front of a lot of people and playing against the best. … Knowing that I have to step it up against the best, it just gets me going.”
Fowler goes low
With three back-nine birdies, Ricky Fowler managed to get himself in contention in the third round, even if his playing partners, Sergio Garcia and Robert Karlsson, struggled mightily all day.
Fowler posted a 67, matching the lowest score of the week on a day Karlsson shot 86 and Garcia posted a 75, including a 10 on the par-4 15th hole with three shots out of bounds. Fowler is now at 3-over 213 for 54 holes and four shots off the lead.
“I enjoyed playing with both of them,” Fowler said. “You couldn’t exactly tell what was going on with them, which was awesome. It shows a lot about their character on the course and the way they handle themselves. So it was fun to be around them. I could never tell they were having a terrible day.”
Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland joined two other former Open winners, Jim Furyk and Angel Cabrera, on the outside of the 8-over (148) cut line, trying to figure out what went wrong.
McDowell, who prevailed in 2010 at Pebble Beach, had seven double bogeys over the first 36 holes and was at 13-over, five off the cut. Cabrera, who lost in a Masters playoff to Scott in April, shot 81 on Friday and was at 15-over 155.
“It’s that hard, it’s that difficult, it’s that long,” McDowell said. “I’m disappointed, of course. It’s not the way I wanted to play the last couple of days.”
Strangest sight of the week occurred Friday when Carl Petterson of Sweden was about to hit a shot at the fifth hole. He had to stop in the middle of his backswing because his ball was struck by another ball coming from the adjacent second fairway.
“Luckily, I wasn’t in my downswing because I would have missed the ball,” Petterson said. “I don’t know what the ruling would have been on that. But it might not have been good. I re-gripped and hit a decent shot after that.”
Petterson was allowed to replace his ball in the same spot without a penalty. He said he had no idea who hit the shot that struck his ball.