PINEHURST, N.C. — Martin Kaymer didnt shoot a third consecutive 65 Saturday in the third round of the 114th U.S. Open.
But on a more taxing Pinehurst No. 2, he didnt have to.
Kaymers 2-over-par 72 in the third round dropped him to 8-under 202, but he lost just one shot off his lead as the rest of the field struggled to make up ground and takes a five-stroke lead into Sundays final round.
Usually you have one of those poor days at one stage during a tournament, but the important thing is that you keep that poor day still okay, and that is what I did, Kaymer said.
Rickie Fowler and Erik Compton are five shots back at 3-under 207, Coastal Carolina alumnus Dustin Johnson and Swede Henrik Stenson are six back at 2 under, and Brandt Snedeker is the only other player under par at 1-under 209. Matt Kuchar, Kevin Na and Brooks Koepka are at a even-par 210.
The Pinehurst No. 2 that players encountered Saturday more resembled the one they envisioned after their difficult practice rounds.
Watering on Wednesday night and rain Thursday night softened the course, allowing for a 36-hole cut of 145 that matched the fourth lowest in tournament history.
But a combination of the course becoming much more dry and firm, and the USGA selecting diabolical pin placements on several holes, made the course more befitting a U.S. Open.
The number of players under par in the tournament dropped from 13 through the second round to six after Saturday, and there were just two scores under par in the third round. Both Fowler and Compton shot 3-under 67s to move from a tie for 14th at even par into their tie for second at 3 under.
There were several pins that I thought, Man, it's just mean, mean, what they've done, Kuchar said. You do your best to leave it in a place where you think you can make a par from. You play practice rounds and you kind of guess where you think pins will be and you kind of say, Well, that's too severe, they won't put it there, and sure enough, that's where the pin is. I should know better by now, they seem to do it year after year.
It was a tough test, not only skill-wise, but mentally to stay in it and not let yourself get beaten up.
The task ahead for Kaymer, 29, who has 10 European Tour wins to go along with the 2010 PGA Championship and last months Players Championship, is to avoid matching the largest 54-hole lead blown in U.S. Open history.
That record that dates back to Mike Brady losing to Water Hagen in 1919. Arnold Palmer also famously blew a seven-shot lead over Billy Casper with nine holes to play at the 1966 U.S. Open at Olympic Club.
If you have a lead of four shots, five shots, six shots, if you play a golf course like this it can be gone very quickly, Kaymer said. You could see it today. I made three bogeys the first six holes.
The challenge tomorrow is to keep going and not to try to defend anything. Well see how I react tomorrow, how the body feels and how I handle the situation.
The challenge for Fowler, who will be in the final group of a major for the first time, Compton and Kaymers other chasers is to put some pressure on the leader of each of the first three rounds.
I can put myself in contention and see what Martin does, said Fowler, whose lone PGA Tour victory is the 2012 Wells Fargo Championship in Charlotte. If he goes out and posts double digits, its going to be impossible for us to catch him. Its like a second tournament going on: see what Martin does.
Fowler has retooled his swing with instructor Butch Harmon. Fowler tied for 10th in last years U.S. Open at Merion and tied for fifth in the Masters in April.
Fowler and Compton gained five strokes on Kaymer on Saturday, and thats how many strokes they are behind him entering the final round.
I was very, very pleased with todays work, Fowler said. It was all about kind of moving forward today.
Kaymer appeared to be on the cusp of having momentum begin to work against him early in the round, threatening his big lead. But he made some tremendous early shots under pressure to stabilize.
Coming off just his second bogey of the tournament on the second hole and a missed birdie putt on the third, Kaymer hooked his drive into trees on the par-4 fourth hole and took a drop and penalty stroke for an unplayable lie in thick pine straw. He punched out to 160 yards, hit an approach to 15 feet and made the bogey putt to drop just one stroke to 8 under.
It was a very big putt to make that bogey, Kaymer said. To lose only one on a hole like that, where its almost a par-5 today, it was okay.
On the par-5 fifth, he drove into a left natural area, but hit a 7-iron from 205 yards along a tree line to 5 feet to make an eagle and get back to 10 under.
It looked like he might give a couple strokes back on the next hole, the par-3 sixth, when he hit a putt that rolled well off the green, but he used his putter to nestle his third shot near the pin and tapped in for bogey.
A little bit of an up-and-down start, Kaymer said. A lot of things were happening today but I think I kept it fairly well together.
Kaymer bogeyed the 13th and 15th holes to drop to 7 under before sticking his approach to 4 feet for a birdie on the 18th to close out his 72.
I didn't make any mental mistakes or any strategy mistakes, it was just poor golf shots, Kaymer said. I think after the first two days, for me, it's okay to hit some poor shots as well once in a while, so it was acceptable.
Kaymer will take another tough course setup Sunday. It would be nice if they make it difficult again, he said. Because then it really becomes or it's all about ball striking. I enjoy playing those courses a lot more than just a putting competition.