Eclectic group in contention at U.S. Open

UNIVERSITY PLACE, Wash. -- Not even the trains that occasionally rumble past the closing holes at Chambers Bay could drown out all the noise about the controversial course where the 115th U.S. Open is scheduled to conclude on Sunday.

Perhaps the leaderboard will help.

Specifically, the reigning Masters champion, Jordan Spieth, who is a day away from achieving the rare double.

Spieth has plenty of work to do on a treacherous Chambers Bay layout that has seen its greens pilloried for their appearance -- and playability -- by a good number of competitors in the championship.

Their frustration is understandable, but even a few shaking moments on those greens himself couldn't keep Spieth from the top of the leaderboard, along with Jason Day, Dustin Johnson and Branden Grace.

Each one has his own tale, and of course winning a major title is life-altering for any player.

But what if it's Spieth holding the U.S. Open Championship Trophy on Sunday night?

The 21-year-old already secured his place in the record books when he became the second-youngest player to win the Masters, tying the 72-hole scoring record in the process.

Imagine if he could snare the U.S. Open, too.

Of the game's great discussed and debated accomplishments, the Masters-U.S. Open double is rarely mentioned -- probably because it doesn't happen.

Forget winning the Grand Slam, how about winning the Masters and U.S. Open in the same year? Only five players have done it, a total of six times, and all are Hall of Famers: Craig Wood (1941), Ben Hogan (1951, 1953), Arnold Palmer (1960), Jack Nicklaus (1972) and Tiger Woods (2002).

Consider how wild the scene might be at St. Andrews next month if Spieth heads to the Old Course with two major championship trophies.

And he's in this position despite a somewhat ordinary third round that saw him three-putt on four occasions and shoot a 1-over-par 71.

"I think as I sleep on it and wake up there will certainly be some nerves," Spieth said. "It's not like I'm a veteran at this by any means. But by the time we tee off, if I can convince myself that I'm freerolling, I've got one of these, and the other guys are trying to chase their first.

"I know how hard it is to chase your first and close it out. If we can use that winning formula we had back in April, mentally, then all it comes down to is can I just pull off the shots and it's all on execution. And my execution hasn't been phenomenal this week. I've saved it with some midrange and long putting, but you can't rely on that, especially on a Sunday at a U.S. Open. That's as hard of a golf course as you're going to see every year. So I'm going to need to execute a little bit better, because mentally I think I'll be strong enough to pull it off."

Still, Spieth is tied atop the leaderboard at 206, 4 under par -- although he won't be in the final group.

Day, who overcame vertigo symptoms and at times considered quitting, shot 68 to get into the final pairing with Johnson, the long-hitting nine-time PGA Tour winner who has had close calls on three major championship Sundays. Then there is South African Grace, who has six European Tour victories, is ranked 40th in the world but has had only marginal success in the United States. He will be paired with Spieth.

They are 3 shots ahead of the rest of the field, but don't sleep on South Africa's Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion at St. Andrews. He got caught up in the Woods-Rickie Fowler first-round debacle at Chambers Bay, shooting 77 (Woods had 80, Fowler 81). But he bounced back on Friday to shoot 66 and make the cut, and added another one on Saturday.

If he were to somehow win, he'd be the first to have shot 77 or worse in the opening round since Sam Parks Jr. at Oakmont in 1935. Parks shot 299, or 11 over par, to win.

"It's going to be exciting from where I came from," he said.

And that's just one of several excellent angles heading into the final round.

Johnson has long been destined for greatness, and he's piled up PGA Tour victories. But he had that bunker issue at Whistling Straits five years ago, costing him a spot in a PGA Championship playoff. Earlier that year, he squandered a 54-hole lead at the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach.

Then there were his much-publicized personal issues that resulted in a 6-month leave of absence -- even though Johnson was en route to his best year in 2014 and had clinched a spot on the U.S. Ryder Cup team.

"I've been in this situation a few times so I know how to handle myself," Johnson said. "I know what it takes to get it done. I just need to go out there and focus on one shot at a time."

Day, of course, would be a remarkable champion. The winner of three PGA Tour events, he has contended in a handful of majors, only to come up short. But dealing with vertigo and somehow shooting 68 when he at times thought about quitting is the stuff of legend.

"I said to him on 18, that was the greatest round of golf I've ever watched," said Day's caddie, Col Swatton, who began teaching the golfer when he was just 13, in Australia. "That was a superhuman effort."

As amazing as that outcome would be, so too would a victory by Spieth. There have been seven major championship rounds played in 2015, and Spieth -- who would have been graduating from the University of Texas this spring had he stayed in school -- has held at least a share of the lead in six of them.

Spieth has not been immune to problems on the greens -- he had four three-putts on Saturday -- but few will remember the problems on those putting surfaces if he is carrying two major championship trophies across the Atlantic.