Can anyone stop Bryson DeChambeau from winning this U.S. Open?

By Gabby Herzig, Brody Miller and Brendan Quinn

Bryson DeChambeau has been circling his second major championship all of 2024. He may just get it on Sunday.

DeChambeau’s third-round 67 got him to 7-under-par at the U.S. Open — and three shots ahead of the three men tied for second place. Patrick Cantlay, Rory McIlroy and Matthieu Pavon will have 18 holes left to try to steal the win at Pinehurst No. 2 from DeChambeau, who has not won a major since the 2020 U.S. Open.

It was a dramatic Saturday at Pinehurst, with contenders rising and falling up the leaderboard all day. Except for DeChambeau, who had six birdies, one bogey and one double-bogey (on 17).

Can someone overtake and win this U.S. Open besides DeChambeau? Or is Sunday afternoon a coronation? Our golf team — Brendan Quinn, Brody Miller and Gabby Herzig — breaks it down ahead of the final round.

Who has the best chance of chasing down DeChambeau?

Herzig: My heart says McIlroy has the best chance to chase DeChambeau tomorrow, but my head says Pavon could produce some fireworks that no one saw coming on Sunday. Pavon might not have the major championship experience, but he has shown he can pull off a miracle. Today, I saw it up close. On the 13th hole, the Frenchman found himself with perhaps the worst lie we’ve seen in this championship. His ball was hidden from sight, lodged directly behind a tuft of wiregrass. It was so bad that he considered trying to hit the next shot backward. Pavon muscled it out instead and left himself a 120-yard up-and-down for par. He flagged his third shot to inside four feet and drained it.

It was risky. It was bold. It was indicative of the kind of player Pavon is. A final pairing at a U.S. Open Sunday might trigger unfamiliar emotions for Pavon, but we could see similarly gutsy shots on Sunday afternoon. Pavon won’t win, but I think he has the best chance to give DeChambeau a scare.

Miller: It’s who has the firepower to do it, right? Well, the only players to shoot a 66 or better this week and have another round under par are McIlroy and Åberg. As confident as I felt about Åberg going into that 13th hole, five shots just seems like too much. The best chance has to be McIlroy, the third-best player in the world (although I guess DeChambeau is snagging that spot) who has mixed his elite scoring ability with some really gritty golf this week.

Per The Athletic contributor Justin Ray, players who lead the U.S. Open by three or more entering the final round are 22-of-34 (65 percent). That’s a much lower rate than you’d expect, and just eight years ago we saw Shane Lowry hand away a four-shot lead at Oakmont. This isn’t over, and if anyone is due for something to break their way it’s McIlroy.

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Rory McIlroy shot a 69 on Saturday and will need to make up three shots on Bryson DeChambeau. (Jared C. Tilton / Getty Images)

Quinn: The last time Bryson DeChambeau held a piece of the lead heading into the final round of a four-round tournament? The 2021 BMW Championship. Remember? Caves Valley? The duel with Patrick Cantlay? The two shot matching 66s that Sunday, traded haymakers in a sudden-death playoff that took six holes to settle before Cantlay rammed home an 18-foot birdie putt that DeChambeau couldn’t match. Thus marked the popularization of the mythic Patty Ice.

Despite Cantlay’s brutal major record — just four top 10s (one top five) in 26 appearances — he’s proven that, at his best, he can go when it matters and has won some epic duels. On Sunday he’ll be paired with Rory McIlroy in a rematch of their Ryder Cup duel at Marco Simone, when Cantlay delivered the winning putt in a foursomes match to silence hat-waving European fans and set off the absurd scene of caddie Joe Lacava infuriating the entire Euro side.

Point is, Cantlay does have that side to him. At his best, he’s capable of beating anyone and has proven unafraid in big moments. This certainly suffices. Cantlay ranks second in strokes gained putting this week and third in scrambling. Both will be required Sunday at Pinehurst.

Who in the final two groups will absolutely not win?

Miller: Patrick Cantlay. Not even trying to hate. But his last two days have — admirably — been about grinding incredibly hard through some tough golf. And even during his impressive opening round 65, Cantlay gained four strokes on the field with his short game, an unsustainable number that often indicates his overall game wasn’t very dialed.

Obviously, Cantlay is a better overall player than Pavon, but Pavon is probably playing higher-ceiling golf than Cantlay this week. We have to remember it’s about firepower now, not consistency.

Quinn: Look, it feels especially cruel to just nuke Matthieu Pavon for no reason, but the 31-year-old Frenchman is not going to win. Ranked 137th in the world in Datagolf’s professional ranking, I fear, if anything, he might be on borrowed time. Pavon has brilliantly navigated Pinehurst with only seven bogeys this week and nothing larger on the card. Time might be up, though.

I hope I’m wrong.

Herzig: As thrilling and satisfying as it would be for the four-time major champion, I just don’t see McIlroy pulling out his fifth at Pinehurst No. 2. We’ve seen this story before. McIlroy is about as close as he can get to ending his 10-year-long major drought, and he simply flatlines. His putts start coming up short. He fails to take advantage of his most promising birdie opportunities. He’ll inch closer for a moment — pushing us even closer to the edge of our seats — only to let the championship slip away. Three shots is a minuscule lead on this golf course. But for McIlroy, the deficit might not matter. If I had to guess, I think it’s already over for the Northern Irishman.

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Bryson DeChambeau has shot three straight rounds in the 60s at Pinehurst.

What is the winning score?

Quinn: The winning total has improved from the third round in four of the last five U.S. Opens — by two shots in 2019, one shot in both 2020 and 2021, two shots in 2022, and unchanged in 2023. DeChambeau is going to play a conservative round and dare other players to force the issue and come get him, assuming they’ll eventually step in it. If DeChambeau can manage a tidy final round 1-under 69, that’d require someone posting a 66 or 65 to go catch him. Only two players in the field on Saturday — DeChambeau and Collin Morikawa — shot better than 67. And Sunday will likely present an even tougher test at Pinehurst.

So, winning score: -8

The low number on Sunday, meanwhile, will be Tommy Fleetwood posting a midday 62 to match the U.S. Open scoring record.

Miller: Yes, it’s a U.S. Open. Yes, Pinehurst is a beast that can destroy anyone’s day in seconds. But at the end of the day, DeChambeau has gone 67-69-67, and he hasn’t given us a single sign of some flaw that could come back to get him. He’s played such smart, responsible golf all week. He’s not going to act crazy with a three-shot lead suddenly. If somebody takes this from him, it might have to be because they shot a 65 or 66.

Winning score: -8.

Herzig: Every player in contention will be thinking the same thing tomorrow: Play to the middle of the fairway, and then the middle of the green. DeChambeau has been saying it all week: You have to play “boring” golf at this U.S. Open. Players will take long irons off the tees and they’ll fire at the fattest parts of Pinehurst’s turtleback greens. The risk of aggressive play here is simply not worth the reward. For that reason, I think the winning score will be 7-under. A score of even par will be impressive for DeChambeau, and it’ll be up to the chasers to drain some putts and try to catch him.

Does Bryson win?

Herzig: Yes. It’s time. DeChambeau was there at the Masters. He barely missed out on a playoff against Xander Schauffele at the PGA Championship. He’s dialed in his 3D-printed equipment, and he has the crowd support. Here at Pinehurst, the DeChambeau roars just hit different — the fans, young and old, have come around to him and he can sense it. All in all, I just don’t see DeChambeau throwing this thing away. With his ball speed, he’ll have shorter irons into the greens than anyone else. His misses these days are never particularly costly. Plus, I just don’t see anyone shooting a low enough score to threaten him. DeChambeau will win the 124th U.S. Open.

Miller: Yes. Because he’s truly earned it the last 13 months. My man was lost, dropping as low as No. 134 in the world on DataGolf in 2023. He found something last May. He shot a 59 to win LIV Greenbrier. And LIV Chicago a month later. Then, he took the solo Round 1 lead at the Masters and fell one shot shy of a playoff at the PGA Championship. DeChambeau has truly come full circle and earned his way to this point, and it’s difficult to deny this is his moment.

(The wild card in this is how the course is set up tomorrow. If it’s easier, Bryson by seven. If it’s harder, it just means more volatility.)

Quinn: Twenty-two players have won multiple U.S. Opens since the national championship was first played in 1895. DeChambeau will be the 23rd.

The moment that became perfectly clear? When DeChambeau followed a potentially tournament-changing double-bogey on No. 16 with a dead-eye, cold-blooded iron to the stick of the 207-yard par-3 17th. Following the double on 16 with a birdie might end up being his postcard from this week in the Sandhills. In truth, DeChambeau could play a conservative round on Sunday and shoot a 66 or 67 and make this a coronation more than a celebration.

(Top photo of Bryson DeChambeau: Alex Slitz / Getty Images)

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