Fujita (-14) Leads Stricker by 2 After 54 Holes at Newport C.C.

By David Shefter, USGA

| Jun 29, 2024 | Newport, R.I.

Fujita (-14) Leads Stricker by 2 After 54 Holes at Newport C.C.

As someone with seven senior major championships to his name, including the 2019 U.S. Senior Open, Steve Stricker understands it takes plenty of patience to seal the deal on Sundays. Unlike regular PGA Tour Champions events, majors are 72-hole affairs that require consistency over four days, not three.

Nobody has been more consistent this week at Newport Country Club than Hiroyuki Fujita. The 55-year-old from Japan has missed just one fairway and registered only one bogey all week en route to posting three consecutive sub-par rounds in the 44th U.S. Senior Open. A third-round, 3-under 67 on an overcast Saturday kept Fujita atop the leaderboard at 14-under 196, a place he’s occupied since the competition began on Thursday.

But that margin is only two going into championship Sunday, and his closest pursuer is a man no stranger to this position. Stricker, 57, of Madison, Wis., fired a third straight 66 to post 12-under 198. While this may only be Stricker’s fourth U.S. Senior Open appearance, his results are impeccable: a win and two consecutive runners-ups in 2022 and ’23. His final-round scoring average is a remarkable 67.6, including a 65 two years ago when he nearly caught eventual winner Padraig Harrington.

Australian lefty Richard Green, the runner-up in this year’s Senior PGA Championship in Benton Harbor, Mich., is three behind at 11-under 199, following a third-round 69.

Those three will again be grouped on Sunday as tee times were once again moved up due to impending weather. That trio played together on Saturday in a similar weather situation as fog was predicted to roll into the area.

Englishman Richard Bland, the winner of the 2024 Senior PGA, Bob Estes and Paul Stankowski sit five, six and seven strokes back, respectively, and will likely need a seismic downward shift from the top three as well as another great scoring day to have a shot at hoisting the Francis D. Ouimet Memorial Trophy. 

Two late birdies has 2019 champion Steve Stricker within two shots of the lead heading into Sunday's final round at Newport C.C. (USGA/Jonathan Ernst)

Two late birdies has 2019 champion Steve Stricker within two shots of the lead heading into Sunday's final round at Newport C.C. (USGA/Jonathan Ernst)

Bland, who captured his maiden European Tour event in his 478th start two years ago and shared the 36-hole lead at the 2021 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines, briefly got to 10-under for the championship before playing 1-over golf over his final nine holes, settling for a 69 after rounds of 68-64. Estes, a four-time PGA Tour winner, matched the low round of the day with a 66, while Stankowski shot 69. Rocco Mediate, the 2008 U.S. Open runner-up, is in solo seventh, eight strokes back, following a 67.

Fujita, meanwhile, continued his machine-like performance. An 18-time winner on the Japan Golf Tour and last year’s Japan Senior Open winner, didn’t seem fazed by his pairing or the situation as he tries to become the first male Japanese golfer to claim a USGA title. Three females after achieved the feat, including Yuka Saso at this year’s U.S. Women’s Open Presented by Ally at Lancaster (Pa.) Country Club, where Japanese players went 1-2 for the first time in major-championship history, men or women.

He came out of the gates with a nice up-and-down birdie on the par-5 first and added two more birdies on six and nine to turn in 32. A brilliant 10-foot par save at the 15th kept Fujita from suffering his second bogey of the week. He was the only player in the field on Saturday to have a clean card.

He did have good birdie opportunities inside eight feet on Nos. 16 and 17 but made a nice up-and-down par at the closing hole after overshooting the green.

“I just tried to stay even keel and consistent,” said Fujita through a translator. “I'm just trying to enjoy the fact that I'm out here, and I feel very lucky to be here. I try to focus on that.”

Stricker also made an up-and-down birdie at the first from a greenside bunker, but it was his 15-foot par save at the 326-yard second that might have been the biggest moment of the round. 

“I putted the ball really nicely again today,” said Stricker, who is tied with Fujita and Green for the most birdies with 15. “I feel really good with that new putter that I put in this week and hit a lot right on my line…That [par putt on No. 2] was an important one right out of the start of the round.”

Trailing by as many as four shots most of the round, Stricker cut that gap in half with a two-putt birdie at the 590-yard, par-5 16th and a 20-footer at the 185-yard 17th. He nearly got one closer on 18, leaving his 15-footer inches short.

“He didn't really miss a shot all the way around,” said Stricker of Fujita. “He's very consistent, hits it in the fairway, in play, gets it on the green. He's very consistent, putted the ball really nicely.

“We're going to have to go out and have a good round to try to catch him,” said Stricker. “It looks like he's in control of what's going on with his game and emotion.” 

Despite a couple of early bogeys, Aussie Richard Green kept his focus in posting a third consecutive sub-par round. (USGA/Jonathan Ernst)

Despite a couple of early bogeys, Aussie Richard Green kept his focus in posting a third consecutive sub-par round. (USGA/Jonathan Ernst)

Green, vying to be the first southpaw to win the U.S. Senior Open, had another solid, but unspectacular round on Saturday. Tied with Fujita after a 7-under 63 on Thursday, he’s managed two more sub-70 rounds on the classic Newport Country Club layout that is hosting the USGA’s 1,001st championship. Overcoming consecutive bogeys on five and six, Green managed to birdie the par-4 14th and two-putted the par-5 16th for birdie to get within three of Fujita. He then settled for pars on 17 and 18.

The 53-year-old registered 10 worldwide wins before joining the senior circuit, including the 1997 Dubai Desert Classic on the European Tour (now DP World Tour). He also has posted three European Senior Tour victories, including a second Jersey Legends title last year.

“I'm a pretty low on the stress scale,” said Green, who always wears sunglasses no matter the weather conditions. “I was probably where I needed to be to perform today. Hopefully I can feel like that tomorrow.”

What’s Next

The final round will commence at 8:20 a.m. EDT, with the final group going out at 10:20 a.m. Live streaming will begin on Peacock at 10:30 a.m. and then switch to NBC for live coverage from 12:30 p.m.-3:30 p.m. Should there be a tie after 72 holes, a two-hole aggregate playoff on Nos. 10 and 18 will take place immediately following the conclusion of the final round. Should it still be tied, they would repeat playing 18 until a champion is crowned.

Bob Estes matched the day's low round at Newport Country Club with a 4-under 66 to move into solo fifth. (USGA/Kathryn Riley)

Bob Estes matched the day's low round at Newport Country Club with a 4-under 66 to move into solo fifth. (USGA/Kathryn Riley)


  • The number of sub-par rounds continued to trend lower, going from 42 on Day 1 to 29 on Friday to just 23 on Saturday as the course continued to firm up. Steve Stricker, Paul Broadhurst and Bob Estes had the day’s low rounds with 66s. The scoring average was 71.11. It was 71.78 for Round 1 and 72.49 on Friday, but those were with a full field of 156 players (155 on Friday with Mike Weir’s withdrawal).

  • Third-round leader Hiroyuki Fujita hasn’t just performed on the golf course this year. Recently, he did some television commentating at a Japan Golf Tour event and told NBC’s Dan Hicks that it was a “long eight hours,” but the coffee and snacks in the booth were good.

  • Of the 71 professionals to make the 36-hole cut, 22 were qualifiers, including last-minute alternate Guy Boros, the son of 1952 and 1963 U.S. Open champion Julius Boros. Cameron Percy, who led the qualifiers through 36 holes, also made the field as an alternate from qualifying when he was edged at his Minnesota site by Mario Tiziani, the brother-in-law of 2019 champion Steve Stricker, for the final spot. 
    Michael Long was another alternate to survive the cut. Massachusetts natives Fran Quinn and Jeff Martin were among the 22 qualifiers, as was Chris Riley, a member of the 1995 USA Walker Cup Team who played in the 1995 U.S. Amateur at Newport C.C. Australian Matthew Goggin also competed in that ‘95 U.S. Amateur.

  • Thirty-six Americans survived the cut, but so did players from 16 other countries: Australia, Canada, Denmark, England, Fiji, Germany, the Republic of Ireland, Japan, the Republic of Korea, New Zealand, Scotland, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Thailand and Wales.

  • Australian Mark Hensby celebrated his 52nd birthday on Saturday. A day after matching the championship’s low round with a 63, that included a second-nine 29, Hensby posted a 3-over 73.


“He didn't really miss a shot all the way around. “He's very consistent, hits it in the fairway, in play, gets it on the green. [And] he putted the ball really nicely.” – Steve Stricker on 54-hole leader Hiroyuki Fujita

“Extremely lucky to have played with them. I was excited to watch them up close. They really attacked some of those pins, and it was fun to watch. Any time I come to one of these majors, I'm just excited to be around these guys. Playing with them is an honor.” – Hiroyuki Fujita on playing with Steve Stricker and Richard Green

“I didn't know. Low expectations. I think that's the key for me this week. I'm just trying to hold myself together physically, and just really take whatever the course will give me.” – Jerry Kelly after shooting 67 to get inside the top 10

“Look, the golf course is in great shape. I think, even with a little bit of rain as we're expected to get [on Sunday], it's still going to provide a big test. The question is like do you get rain and wind? That's a tough combo. Anyways, just go with it, see what Mother Nature has in store for us.” – Justin Leonard

“That's unfortunate. The golf course is in perfect condition right now. This place is meant to be kind of firm and fast and kind of linksy in feel. I think they've got it right where they probably want it right now.” – Jim Furyk when told of Sunday’s forecast of rain

“It's fantastic. [Superintendent] Chris [Coen] and his staff have been unbelievable this week with the rain that they've had last weekend and then a little bit early on. The course is perfect. Greens are great. The fairways are great. Everything about it is the way it should be.” – Brett Quigley

“If this guy misses the fairway, I will pass out,” – NBC on-course reporter Roger Maltbie as Hiroyuki Fujita (missed one fairway in three rounds) prepared to hit his drive on No. 15, one of the widest fairways at Newport C.C. Fujita hit the 15th fairway.

David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at dshefter@usga.org.