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Coronation for Kaymer?
Though he wasn't nearly as sharp as in the first two rounds when he fired matching 5-under 65s, Martin Kaymer remains in the driver's seat heading into Sunday at the 114th U.S. Open.
Kaymer, who began the third round at Pinehurst No. 2 in North Carolina with a six-stroke lead over Brendon Todd and seven ahead of Kevin Na and Brandt Snedeker, had carded only one bogey in his first 36 holes.
But on Saturday, the 29-year-old from Dusseldorf, Germany, found the hard-and-fast conditions at the fabled Donald Ross-designed course much more difficult, as did the rest of the field.
On a hot and sunny day in Carolina's Sandhills, the 2010 PGA champion - who also won the Players Championship last month - posted five bogeys and an eagle (on the par-5 fifth hole) before a birdie on the par-4 closer for a 2-over 72, a 54-hole total of 8-under 202, and a five-stroke lead over Rickie Fowler and Erik Compton.
Kaymer is seeking to become only the sixth player in history to be a wire-to-wire winner in the U.S. Open. If he holds on Sunday, Kaymer will be the first to hold the outright lead of the championship all four days. He'll also be the first German to win the title.
Despite going seven strokes higher than Thursday or Friday, Kaymer was pleased with his play. "It was good," he said during a brief greenside interview on NBC. "I didn't play as well today . . . The USGA put the pins in very tough positions." As for his 72, Kaymer noted, "I only made bogeys - which are good - and one birdie and one eagle. It was a good score."
Fowler and Compton posted the low third rounds, 3-under 67s, to reach 3-under 207 on the par-70 layout. Thanks to only 24 putts, Fowler carded five birdies and two bogeys, while Compton had five birdies, an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole, and four bogeys.
On Saturday, Fowler and Compton's were the only under-par rounds. The last time that happened in a U.S. Open was in 2007 at Oakmont in Pennsylvania.
"Very, very pleased with today's work," said the 25-year-old Fowler, who on Thursday wore bright plus-fours in homage to the late Payne Stewart, the U.S. Open winner at Pinehurst in 1999. "Swing-wise, I didn't drive it very well today but kept it in play and stayed out of trouble when I could. Kind of minimized mistakes when I was in trouble, and actually made some good swings in bad spots.
"One was behind the green on nine," added Fowler, who'll play in Sunday's final group with Kaymer. "I had a good look for par from about 18 feet and just accepted bogey. I had to do that a couple of times. But other than that, made some really good iron swings, and got up and down when I needed to. And like I said, it was all about kind of moving forward today."
Compton could end being one of the main stories the championship. The 34-year-old Floridian has endured two heart transplants, the first in 1992 and the second in 2008. Despite his physical issues, Compton can play, especially on tough golf courses. "It's a very difficult golf course. I thought the weather was a little bit cooler today. Yesterday it was extremely hot and for me it can be difficult when it gets hot.
"But I felt really comfortable out there and I picked good targets and made aggressive swings," added Compton, who qualified for his second U.S. Open in Columbus, Ohio. "I pulled off a lot of great shots on the front nine. I'm just really happy to be here. When I was walking down 18, it's like you try to keep yourself focused, but you're emotional and you're in the competition and, look, it's just really great to be here and I'm looking forward to (Sunday)."
In a tie for fourth at 2-under 208 are Sweden's Henrik Stenson and Dustin Johnson, who each shot 70s. Alone in sixth at 1-under is Snedeker, who had a 72.
The only other players at even-par or better are Matt Kuchar (71), Brooks Koepka (72) and Na (73) at 210. Na was at 4-under and within eyeshot of Kaymer before a double-bogey on the par-4 14th. The 30-year-old South Korean-born Na, who now lives in Las Vegas, then doubled the par-4 16th to drop down the leaderboard.
Tied for 10th at 1-over 211 are defending U.S. Open champion Justin Rose (70), Jordan Spieth (72), Chris Kirk (72) and Zimbabwe's Brendon de Jonge (73).
After opening with promising rounds of 69 and 67, Todd - playing in the final group with Kaymer - ballooned to a 79 and dropped into a tie for 30th at 215.
Two Europeans - Victor Dubuisson of France and Italy's Francesco Molinari - share 14th at 2-over 212 after recording 70 and 72, respectively.
No. 1-ranked Adam Scott shot a 73 and is tied for 16th at 3-over 213, the same total as two-time major winner McIlroy (74). Keegan Bradley was in contention after two straight 69s, but the 28-year-old from Vermont had a 76 Saturday. Phil Mickelson carded a 72 and is at 215 heading into the final round.
After making the cut off rounds of 69 and 74, 49-year old Fran Quinn shot a 79. The oldest player in the championship, 53-year-old Kenny Perry, managed a 74 and is at 217.
Quinn said his downfall Saturday came on No. 2's slick, domed greens. "I didn't make any of the putts. I missed all the short putts for par and I missed all my makeable putts for birdie, and in this type of championship, you have to make those," lamented the Massachusetts native. "If you do make those, that keeps the momentum going. I didn't do that. That's -- and then I had a horrific finish, finishing bogey, double-bogey. I had a wedge into 18 just in the native grass, the ball came out sideways into a side bunker and I just made, I made double. So disappointing finish, still been a great week. We're going to go out, we're going to try to shoot a low score tomorrow and finish it off in style. But to do what I did today is really disappointing."
Perry, a 14-time PGA Tour winner and a six-time winner - including three majors - on the Champions Tour, said it was tough to get close to the hole Saturday. "It was a golf course of 18 of the toughest pins I've ever seen," said the Kentuckian. "It was probably the hardest setup I've ever experienced in a major championship. Meaning that you had to be spot-on with your irons, there was no room for error, right, left, you had to basically kind of play short and up to everything.
"Every time I got a little aggressive it went a little long and went off the swale and I'm struggling to make par," added Perry, who made an unlikely eagle on the par-4 14th out of a waste bunker 220 yards from the pin. "I was 7-over after seven today and I hadn't hit it that poorly. I missed a couple that looked okay and next thing I know I'm way off in a swale and I'm struggling to make a bogey. I made two doubles. But then I played, I made an eagle, I holed a long shot and made a couple birdies, so I made a respectable score."
For all the scores, visit http://www.usopen.com/en_US/scoring/index.html.