San Diego -- It had been five years since anyone had posted a round of 65 or better at the U.S. Open.
That drought ended Sunday when Heath Slocum toured Torrey Pines in 6-under-par 65, the lowest round of the championship. The last 65 or better was shot by Vijay Singh and Nick Price in the second round at Olympia Fields (Ill.) Country Club in 2003. Singh had a 63 and Price a 65. A day earlier, Tom Watson and Brett Quigley each shot 65.
"That was obviously one of the better rounds I've ever played," said Slocum of Alpharetta, Ga.
Slocum failed to shoot par or better in each of the previous three rounds, but his 65 moved him to 4-over 288 and a tie for ninth, which earns him an exemption for the 2009 Open at Bethpage State Park.
But as he made his way around Torrey Pines, Slocum's mind was on his 6-month-old daughter, Stella, especially with Sunday being Father's Day.
"I was just kind of thinking about her, going out there [and] enjoying myself," said Slocum. "I got off to a good start and I just kept it going all day, and I felt good out there. I was making good swings."
Low-amateur honors went to recent University of Alabama graduate and 2007 U.S. Amateur runner-up Michael Thompson of Tucson, Ariz., at 8-over 292.
But the other two amateurs to make the 36-hole cut, Derek Fathauer of Jensen Beach, Fla., and 2007 USA Walker Cupper Rickie Fowler of Murrieta, Calif., were paired together for the final round. While both were well back of the pack and not seriously in contention for low-amateur honors, the two did have something to play for.
"I was definitely trying to beat him," said Fowler, at 19 the youngest player in the 2008 U.S. Open field. "He was one shot ahead of me, so I wanted to sneak in front of him. I played the last two holes good. He made a bogey on 17, so I was able to pull in front of him. So it was kind of cool to have a one-on-one match, but also in the tournament."
Fowler, who opened with a 1-under 70, carded a 72 for a 13-over 297 total, while Fathauer, a recent University of Louisville graduate, posted a 75 and finished at 15-over 299. Fathauer enjoyed a solid 2007 USGA amateur season, advancing to the semifinals of the U.S. Amateur Public Links and quarterfinals of the Amateur.
"It was fun playing with him today," said Fathauer. "We were just joking around all day. It was a pretty cool start we had. We both bogeyed the first hole, and we both birdied two and three. We were having a good time out there."
Both players enjoyed their first U.S. Open experience. Fowler, the Ben Hogan and Phil Mickelson award winner as a freshman this past season at Oklahoma State, is headed back to the Stillwater campus in the fall. Fathauer will be looking ahead to PGA Tour Qualifying School in the fall, where he now has an exemption into the second stage.
"It was awesome just having all these people cheering for me," said Fathauer. "I don't even know who they are, but they're going nuts."
Thompson, meanwhile, earned a medal for being the low amateur. Next week he'll play the PGA Tour Travelers Championship in Connecticut as an amateur and complete his amateur career at the Palmer Cup in Scotland. He hopes to play in several PGA Tour and Nationwide Tour events before PGA Tour Qualifying School in the fall.
"I still have a lot to learn and I look forward to that," said Thompson. "To me, I don't want to be at the peak of my game right now. I know that I can get better."
But he still will take away fond memories from Torrey.
"It's great to go out and play well in my second major," said Thompson, who just missed the cut eight weeks ago at the Masters. "This is very cool."
Thompson began his college career at Tulane, but was forced to transfer when the school canceled its golf program in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. This past year, he earned first-team All-America honors. Last summer, he reached the finals of the U.S. Amateur before falling to Colt Knost.
Going To Augusta
While the low 15 and ties qualify for the 2009 U.S. Open at Bethpage State Park, the low eight and ties also get an invitation to the '09 Masters.
John Merrick of Long Beach, Calif., who had a sizable gallery of friends and family, earned a trip to Augusta National by shooting an even-par 71 to tie for sixth place. Merrick birdied the 18th hole to join Spain's Miguel Angel Jimenez and Carl Pettersson of Sweden at 3-over 287.
"It was one of those weeks where I had a good frame of mind and I just played consistent ... and never got out of my mode," said Merrick. "I never got too excited, never got too [upset] if something happened and just kind of moved on. That was pretty cool."
This was only Merrick's second U.S. Open, having missed the cut in 2005 at Pinehurst. He only had two top10s on the PGA Tour in 2008, including a tie for third at the Mayakoba Classic in Mexico.
"To play this well is gratifying," he said.
David Shefter is a USGA New Media staff writer. E-mail him with questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.