U.S. Open notes: Russell Henley, Patrick Cantlay battle for top amateur spot

Down the stretch at the U.S. Open, most viewers will be focused on Rory McIlroy and whether he’ll be able to exorcise his Masters demons while a pack of golfers chase him.

Glance down the leaderboard a bit, and there’s a much closer battle — for the top amateur in the field at Congressional between Russell Henley and Patrick Cantlay. Both have shown flashes of brilliance and fallen into trouble this weekend, with Cantlay taking a one-shot lead in the amateur competition at 1-under going into Sunday’s final round.

But Cantlay, who will be a sophomore at UCLA this fall, insisted his sights aren’t set on that.

“It’s not gonna help to think about the low amateur,” he said. “I’m just trying to play the golf course as best as I can and learn as much as I can and enjoy the experience.”

Still, he said, “It would mean a lot. There’s a lot of great names on there, and it would be an honor to earn that accolade.”

One of those names is Henley‘s, as the recent Georgia graduate was the low amateur last year at Pebble Beach. But in 2010, he needed just an 8-over to be the best among guys turning down prize money. He’s set to be much better in 2011, especially after firing a 69 Friday and a 71 Saturday.

Henley’s third round started with four birdies on the front nine, but like so many of the pros in this tournament the 22-year-old faltered on the back nine — with four bogeys. But his remarkable consistency this week has set the stage for a nice competition between Henley and Cantlay in the final round.

Falling apart

There were so many red numbers Saturday at Congressional that the rough days stood out. One especially was conspicuous: a 77 from Phil Mickelson, arguably the biggest star going into this tournament. Walking off the practice range, Lefty felt like he “was able to go light it up,” instead he got lit up.

Mickelson had three bogeys and back-to-back double bogeys in his final nine holes.

“Yeah, it was a rough back nine,” he said. “Some things kind of fell apart there in the end.”

Back in it

Making a run in the middle of the day, much of the focus was on Sweden’s Fredrik Jacobson. He birdied six of his first 11 holes to make a hard charge into contention from 1-over.

Things looked great, until playing partner Lee Westwood rolled off three straight birdies and an eagle, while two of Jacobson’s birdie chips (on Nos. 15 and 16) just missed. He finished the day with a 5-under 66 to move to 4-under for the tournament — but making those two would’ve put him ahead of Westwood and Jason Day, who each shot a 6-under for the day.

Jacobson was happy just to get onto the leaderboard.

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