Final-round preview: The surprise lead pairing and a wide-open field

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. -- Get ready for a Sunday at the U.S. Open that no one saw coming. The course, the tournament -- everything took a sharp turn Saturday, giving us a wide-open, surprising and unpredictable final round.

So, about that final group ...

The last group on the tee Sunday for the 118th U.S. Open will be ... Tony Finau and Daniel Berger.

Hang on, how'd that happen?

Finau and Berger both finished their rounds right about when 36-hole leader Dustin Johnson was starting his day at windy, sun-baked Shinnecock Hills. Both posted 4-under 66s, the best rounds of the day by two shots. Kiradech Aphibarnrat, who shot 68 and was the only other player to post a round under par, pushed his way up the leaderboard and will start Sunday's round tied for seventh and three shots back.

When they left the course, Finau and Berger both just hoped to be in the mix at day's end. Instead, they are two of the four players tied for the lead at 3 over. They came back from 11 shots down and moved from tied for 45th to tied for first.

"Going into [the second round], I needed something special to happen to even have an outside chance," Finau said. "Whether I do or not at the end of today, I'm really happy with where I'm at, and have an opportunity to play well [Sunday] and post a good U.S. Open."

Berger's postround news conference started with a question that began like this: "There's a lot of birdies out there today ..." The players in the afternoon weren't getting that question a few hours later; not on a day when players like Zach Johnson criticized the course setup and the USGA had to begrudgingly admit the course simply played too difficult.

"I think it's going to be extremely difficult," Berger said in predicting what the leaders were going to face Saturday afternoon. "I think to get out there early and play a good round really was to my benefit."

Berger and Finau had no idea how big a benefit.

So, who are Tony Finau and Daniel Berger?

Perhaps you've heard of Finau. Or at least you've seen a video of him messing up his ankle something fierce while celebrating a hole-in-one at the Masters Par 3 Contest this past April. But how much do you know about Finau and Berger?

  • Finau is ranked 37th in the world. Berger is ranked 43rd

  • Berger has two career PGA Tour wins (FedEx St.Jude Classic 2016, 2017). Finau has one (2016 Puerto Rico Open).

  • Both have the same best finish in a major: 10th. Finau finished at this year's Masters and the 2015 PGA Championship. Berger was 10th at the 2016 Masters

OK, so who is still in this thing?

In 1960, Arnold Palmer charged from seven shots back to win the U.S. Open at Cherry Hills. So let's say that's possible again. Heading into Sunday, 30 players are within seven shots of the lead, and some are names that might sound a bit familiar.

Henrik Stenson is two shots back. Masters champ Patrick Reed's hopes for a second consecutive major remain very much possible, as he sits only three strokes behind Berger, Finau, Dustin Johnson and defending U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka. As will Jim Furyk, who is also 6 over. PGA champion Justin Thomas, Players champion Webb Simpson and Memorial winner Bryson DeChambeau stand only five out of the lead.

All told, there are six major champions (Johnson, Koepka, Stenson, Furyk, Reed, Justin Rose) within three shots of the lead, four of whom (Johnson, Koepka, Rose, Furyk) have won the U.S. Open before. Three of the past five U.S. Open champions -- Koekpa, Johnson and Rose -- are either tied or a shot back.

Given how unpredictable this U.S. Open has been, how far back is too far back?

"I don't know," Stenson said. "We'll see [Sunday]."

When the key players hit the course

Click here for the entire list of Sunday's tee times

About Dustin Johnson

His Saturday round could have been a disaster. Sure, 77 isn't exactly good, but he did go out in 41 on the front side and had an 80-something staring him in the face for a while. So, now what?

"I'm in a good position," he said. "[Saturday's] round, I didn't feel like I played badly at all -- 7 over usually is a terrible score. But with the greens the way they got -- I had seven or eight putts that easily could have gone in the hole that didn't. That's the difference between shooting 7 over and even par."