UNIVERSITY PLACE, Washington (Reuters) - Masters champion Jordan Spieth bogeyed the opening hole to slip out of a four-way tie for the U.S. Open lead on Sunday while Rory McIlroy was mounting a thrilling charge in the final round.
Spieth, aiming for a rare double in the year’s first two majors, hit a superb second shot from the left rough to 17 feet at the par-four first at Chambers Bay but three-putted to drop back to three under.
Big-hitting American Dustin Johnson, South African Branden Grace and Australian Jason Day -- joint leaders with Spieth overnight -- each parred the first and second holes to remain tied at the top at four under.
World number one McIlroy, meanwhile, was just two strokes off the pace after racking up six birdies in his first 13 holes to get to two under for the tournament after bright sunshine and plenty of scoring opportunities had greeted the early starters.
The Northern Irishman, seeking his fifth major title, drained a curling 70-footer at the par-four 13th to spark thunderous roars from the grandstands as he closed in on the leaders.
Low scoring was plentiful for the early starters on a par-70 layout made more receptive by overnight watering and set up at its shortest yardage of the week.
The links-style venue became the longest course to stage a U.S. Open when set up at 7,695 yards for the second round, but was cut back to 7,384 yards for the final round.
Among the early finishers, South African Thomas Aiken moved up with a four-under 66 for a four-over total of 284.
“It was a fantastic day,” Aiken, a three-times winner on the European Tour, told reporters. “It seemed like they put a lot of water on the golf course last night to try to soften it so there are birdies out there.”
Most eyes at Chambers Bay were focused on the upper reaches of the leaderboard where Spieth is bidding to become just the sixth player to slip into a green jacket and hoist the U.S. Open trophy in the same year.
Spieth carded a one-over 71 in tough scoring conditions on Saturday to end the third round joint top at four-under 206, level with Johnson (70), Grace (70) and Day, who delivered one of the grittiest displays ever seen at a major to card a 68.
Day had sent a shudder through the tournament on Friday when he collapsed due to vertigo before he finished the second round, but hung tough as he battled his way into contention for a first major title.
Johnson, a nine-times winner on the PGA Tour, and Grace, who has triumphed six times on the European Tour, are also seeking their first victories in a major.
Editing by Larry Fine