The game’s afoot at the 2024 US Open.

That phrase is most often associated with Sherlock Holmes, but it actually goes back to Shakespeare and his play Henry V, when the great king was on the verge of battle. In both cases, it carries a sense of anticipation and drama, and the closest modern equivalent is something like, “it’s on.”

It is very much on in Pinehurst, the game is afoot, but it’s not quite as tight as it looked late in the third day, when there was a crowded leaderboard with a half dozen players within a shot. By the time the third round finished a little more than 90 minutes later, Bryson DeChambeau had carved out a distinct advantage, leading by three shots after posting a three-under 67 to reach seven-under for the championship.

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Beyond him, only seven other players remain under par and within seven shots of the lead. Starting with the relative longshots and working our way up the leaderboard, let’s take a look at each of those contenders and figure out how they can pull out a win – or go down swinging.

Photo: Alex Slitz

Tyrrell Hatton (-1)

Why he could win: The greatest quote of the week came from Hatton on the opening day, when he said, “I guess in some ways, with it being harder, a lot of guys sort of losing their head, it sort of brings them to my level because I just lose my head every week.” If frustration and chaos are the order of the day in the final round on a tough Pinehurst No.2, maybe the Englishman will pull the rest of the field into the raging muck and beat them with experience.

Why he’ll lose: Being six shots behind a player who can’t miss.

Photo: David Cannon

Tony Finau (-1)

Why he could win: If he makes one birdie for each of his five children, he’ll finish at six-under, and then he only needs Bryson to lose a shot, and then he can beat him in a playoff, and life will be groovy.

Why he’ll lose: We’re getting word in our earpieces, here at media central, that golf doesn’t work that way.

Photo: Andrew Redington

Hideki Matsuyama (-2)

Why he could win: Indulge me in the “Pinehurst continental theory”. The three winners of US Opens at Pinehurst thus far have been Payne Stewart (USA), Michael Campbell (New Zealand) and Martin Kaymer (Germany). Each of them is from a different continent, and for that trend to continue, this year’s winner has to be from Asia, Africa or South America. At this point, Japan’s Matsuyama is the only contender, so why not? If you’re looking for something less superstitious, he was the best player on the back nine in the third round by far, rocketing from even-par to three-under. Plus, he’s got that Masters fortitude; he knows how to win a close major.

Why he’ll lose: It’s been a little too long since Hideki was in contention at any major (he only has one top-five since his Masters win), and as we saw with Brooks Koepka at last year’s Masters, even for players with proven clutch pedigree, it takes a close call to remind you how to win. He’s not quite ready, and he’s too far behind a couple players who are ready.

Photo: Alex Slitz

Ludvig Aberg (-2)

Why he could win: Through about 48 holes, the young Swede was the most consistent, impressive player on a course that was rewarding his patience and accuracy. Even after he made the disastrous triple-bogey on the 13th hole, he kept his head well enough to play even-par the rest of the way. He’s still got a lot of firepower and talent, and if someone’s going to shoot a 66 and win this, why not him? He already posted that number on the first day, and he doesn’t have enough scar tissue to get rattled by the stakes.

Why he’ll lose: Seriously, though, the triple-bogey tells you everything you need to know. Mr Steady suddenly got pretty shaky when the concept of leading a US Open after 54 holes became realistic, and if by chance he gets close to the lead tomorrow, the lack of oxygen on the course will be even more pronounced. These are great reps for Aberg, but he showed on today that he’s not yet primed to win the major that he absolutely will win one day.

Photo: David Cannon

Rory McIlroy (-4)

Why he could win: In a word, resilience. He hasn’t been anything close to perfect through three days at Pinehurst, but every time he’s met adversity, he’s controlled the damage and rebounded. This is a course where you have to absorb some blows, and he’s absorbed them all, particularly late in the third round with two tough bogeys on 15 and 17 just as DeChambeau was surging. Even with those unfortunate hiccups, he finished under par for the round and gave himself a credible shot to at least scare DeChambeau a little.

Why he’ll lose: Have you followed Rory for the past decade? His MO is finding ways to lose majors, and though he’s avoided some typical pitfalls thus far, including the Thursday early ejection, the Friday letdown and the Saturday disappearance, he could still pull out another Rory hit and go into neutral on Sunday, never making a key putt, never surging. And about that putting – he’s 47th in strokes gained in that category, far worse than his extremely strong off-the-tee and approach numbers. That’s how he failed to catch Wyndham Clark last year at Los Angeles Country Club, and in a more dramatic way, it’s how he lost his lead at St Andrews at the 2022 Open Championship. Even the way he managed to fall out of the final group late in the third round feels a little too typical.

Photo: Alex Slitz

Patrick Cantlay (-4)

Why he could win: Cantlay has made a name for himself off the course this year by blocking efforts at a PGA Tour–LIV merger, which has annoyed PGA Tour players like McIlroy, who want it to happen, and LIV players like DeChambeau, who are after the same thing. So what better thematic way to end this tournament than for Cantlay to stubbornly make himself an impediment to either of these guys winning? Here’s something more important: he’s the third-best putter by strokes gained in the entire field this week, best among the remaining contenders, and the most likely to just go on a tear on the final day. We’ve seen him do it before in high-profile situations against these very same opponents, at the BMW Championship in 2021 when he outlasted DeChambeau in a playoff, and at the Ryder Cup last September when he absorbed the crowd pressure and beat Rory on the Saturday night. He’s the most likely to catch fire and spoil everyone’s fun.

Why he’ll lose: He just doesn’t have the pressure experience in a major, and his strokes-gained numbers off the tee and on the approach haven’t been good enough to insulate him from a few costly errors. This is a guy with just a single top-five in his major career, and that was five years ago. He won’t be ready for the pressure coming his way at Pinehurst, and he’s too far behind to begin with.

Photo: Andrew Redington

Matthieu Pavon (-4)

Why he could win: He’s been feeling the pressure at various times, particularly at the end of his second and third rounds, when a couple of bogeys cost him a few spots on the leaderboard. Still, he got it under control on both occasions, and when the sandhill dust settled on the third day, he’d shot a strong 69 and held steady to fight his way into the final group.

Why he’ll lose: Credit to the 31-year-old for emerging seemingly out of nowhere this year, and for winning at Torrey Pines, and for getting into the final pairing at a major. But sorry, the way he limped to the clubhouse on Friday and Saturday tells you all you need to know – he’s not ready for primetime. This is too much, too soon for the Frenchman.

Photo: Gregory Shamus

Bryson DeChambeau (-7)

Why he could should win: Any difficult position you put him in during the third round, he was completely at ease. In the bunker off the tee on 13? No problem, he’ll drop it six feet from the hole. Off the tricky greens after his approach? No problem, he’ll chip it close and make a stress-free par. And when he wasn’t in difficulty, he was in attack mode, threatening constantly to leave the rest of the field in his wake. He looks completely in command of his game. On top of that, he’s won a US Open before playing a similar style, and this year in particular, he’s on the Brooks Koepka 2023 trajectory – come close in one major, work out the pressure kinks and dominate the next one. He looks as good as he’s ever been, and on a course that tries to destabilise players, he seemed basically unflappable – the birdie on the 17th hole after the unfortunate double, his only real mistake, proved the point. Oh yeah… he’s also got a three-shot lead, and he’s getting all the breaks, whether it’s the TIO laugher in the first round or just hitting it so far right that he ends up with a perfect lie and approach angle, like his dagger birdie on the 14th.

Why he could lose: Did it seem like he was injured at times today, requiring special stretching attention? The physical wear and tear of swinging that hard for that long in the intense North Carolina heat might be the only way anyone gets back in this thing, and that sounds a lot like wishful thinking. The only other solace anyone can take is that a couple of swings did look a bit shaky down the stretch, including the drive on the 18th. Maybe he’s got a few big blunders left in him on Sunday. Maybe.