Martin Kaymer, who had been near-flawless with his golf over the first two days, survived three early bogeys and a faltering finish to lead the US Open by five shots after Saturday’s third round.
In pursuit of his second major title, the 29-year-old German conjured a miraculous eagle at the par-five fifth on the way to a two-over-par 72 in blazing sunshine at Pinehurst Resort where scoring was at its most difficult for the week.
With very little margin for error on approach shots into domed greens running increasingly fast and firm, Kaymer bogeyed two of his last six holes but sank a six-foot birdie putt at the 18th for an eight-under total of 202 in the year’s second major.
“Two-over par is not as bad as it looks on the scorecard,” the former world number one told reporters. “I kept it very well together, even though I didn’t hit as many great shots as yesterday and Thursday.
“They put the pins in very, very tough positions. I think 18 was the only pin where you could be aggressive. The other flags, if you hit it to 25 feet, it was a good shot. I didn’t hit many fairways today, so the challenge tomorrow will be to keep going and not try to defend (the lead). If you try to defend, then you don’t swing as free.” Kaymer, a commanding six strokes clear overnight after setting a U S Open low for 36 holes with a 10-under aggregate of 130, finished five ahead of Americans Rickie Fowler and Erik Compton, whose 67s were the best.
Swedish world number two Henrik Stenson and long-hitting American Dustin Johnson were a further shot back at two under after carding 70s on a day when Fowler and Compton were the only players in the 67-man field to dip under par.
Reigning US Open champion Justin Rose of England inched his way back up the leaderboard with an even-par 70 to end what is traditionally known as “Moving Day” at the majors at one over, nine strokes off the pace.