The 18th hole had been expected to play as a long par four on Sunday but was set up as a par five for the third time in four rounds, increasing the possibility of a thrilling climax to the year’s second major championship.
Masters champion Jordan Spieth labelled the 18th “unbelievably stupid” when played as a par four on Friday – he took a double-bogey six – and claimed he could play down the first fairway if it was set up that way on Sunday.
And there were even stronger words from world number 16 Chris Kirk after he took 10 shots to complete the par-four first hole in a closing round of 78 to finish 21 over par and last of the 75 players to make the cut.
Kirk, who won the Crowne Plaza Invitational last month, wrote on Twitter: “The U.S. Open is a great tournament with incredible history. The @usga should be ashamed of what they did to it this week.
“My score has nothing to do with why I feel that way, I played poorly. The course wasn’t overly difficult, just tricked up.”
Having missed the first green to the left, Kirk saw his first five attempts to negotiate a steep slope to the green roll back to his feet – and in one instance through his legs.
Compatriot Billy Horschel appeared to share Kirk’s feelings after missing a short par putt on the sixth, the FedEx Cup winner swinging his putter in a chopping motion towards the green, but stopping short of making contact.
Good scores were certainly possible though, with amateurs Nick Hardy and Brian Campbell both shooting 68 and Morgan Hoffmann and Thomas Aiken returning rounds of 66.
Spain’s Sergio Garcia had climbed into the top 15 thanks to birdies on the first, eighth and ninth to be out in 32, with world number one Rory McIlroy also two over par after birdies on the second and seventh.
Ryder Cup team-mate Lee Westwood carded a closing 70 and was left to rue a triple-bogey on the 18th in his second round on Friday.
“I played well today, hit a couple of bad shots on seven and 18 which cost me a couple of sixes but other than that hit a lot of good shots all day,” Westwood said.
“I also played well on Friday and was disappointed to finish with a triple and that really wrecked my momentum for the tournament. I was one under coming there and right in it and you just can’t give away three shots in a US Open type format.
“Today it’s very scoreable. They have not gone silly with the flags. Having said that we played early in the day and it will certainly firm up later on, but they have shortened it in certain areas. The 16th is very driveable and [the tee] on 12 is up.
“Eleven, 13 and 15 are three long holes though. I wore my 3-iron out on them three.”
Phil Mickelson will have to wait another year to win a first US Open to complete the career grand slam, the 45-year-old left-hander carding a closing 73 to finish 13 over par.