SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. (Reuters) - Kiradech Aphibarnrat would have been content just to make the cut at the U.S. Open but the burly Thai is suddenly in contention three shots off the lead going into the final day after posting one of the lowest rounds on Saturday.
Kiradech took advantage of the more sedate morning conditions before Shinnecock Hills firmed up and his two-under-par 68 was one of just three under-par rounds and put him in a share of seventh place at six-over for the tournament.
It was a stunning turn of events for someone who arrived in New York simply hoping to play all four days of the year’s second major and made the cut with no shots to spare.
“To have a chance to play on the weekend is such a great week,” Kiradech told reporters.
“And to move up a lot on the position, which is the way to do it on the third round, I just tried to do everything that my job has to do, keep the ball in play and just hope it will be my day.”
The world number 31 may have had modest goals for his second U.S. Open but has shown impressive form at times this season, including top-five finishes at both the WGC-Mexico Championship and WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play events.
Kiradech, who last week got special temporary membership for the rest of the PGA Tour season, will now try to secure the biggest title of his career on a course that has already gotten the better of some of the world’s best golfers.
“This course, when the wind picks up, is a completely different golf course,” said Kiradech, who mixed five birdies with three bogeys in this third round.
“Really difficult to put the ball in the fairways, can’t hold the greens. When you hit the short iron, you have no spin on this green at all. And the pin was really tricky. You just have to be really patient and really calm on the shot.”
In the final round, the 28-year-old will be chasing the likes of world number one Dustin Johnson and defending champion Brooks Koepka, who are in a four-way share of the lead at three-over with Americans Daniel Berger and Tony Finau.
But Kiradech, who is also a shot back of Swede Henrik Stenson and two behind Englishman Justin Rose, is not about to change his approach even though he needs to catch some of golf’s best players.
“Yeah, it’s just keep it simple. This golf course, you can’t be too much against it,” Kiradech said.
“You have to put the ball in play. You have to hit more fairways, more greens and just keep it going. I’m just trying to play my own game.”
Reporting by Andrew Both; Writing by Frank Pingue; Editing by John O'Brien