Not even Martin Kaymer was immune from a Pinehurst No. 2 course that restored the reputation of a U.S. Open.
He threw enough counterpunches Saturday to leave him on the cusp of his second major.
On a broiling day with some wicked pin positions that yielded only two rounds under par, Kaymer rolled in a 10-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole to salvage a 2-over 72 and take a five-shot lead into the final round.
Only one player in U.S. Open history has lost a five-shot lead in the final round, and that was 95 years go.
“I didn’t play as well as the first two days, but I kept it together,” Kaymer said.
That was all that was required on a day when the U.S. Open finally looked like the toughest test in golf. Kaymer hit a 7-iron from the sandy area left of the fairway on the par-5 fifth hole to set up a 5-foot eagle putt, and his birdie on the final hole put him at 8-under 202.
Only the names of challengers changed, but they were sure to stir up the crowd — and the emotions.
Erik Compton, a two-time heart transplant recipient and perhaps the most remarkable story on the PGA Tour, rolled in a 40-foot birdie putt on the 11th hole and had five birdies and an eagle in a round of 67. He was tied at 3-under 207 with Rickie Fowler, a fan favorite of young American golf fans, who also had a 67.
Fowler will play in the final group of a major for the first time.
Only six players remained under par, and considering no one has come from more than seven shots behind in the final round to win a U.S. Open, they might be the only ones left with a realistic chance to catch the 29-year-old German.
Dustin Johnson and Henrik Stenson each shot 70 and were at 2-under 208. Brandt Snedeker had a 72 and was another shot behind.
Asked how much that birdie mattered on the 18th hole, Kaymer said, “One shot.”
“If you’re four shots, five shots, six shots, if you play a golf course like this, it can be gone very quickly,” he said. “You could see it today. So the challenge tomorrow is to keep going and not try to defend anything. So we’ll see how it will react tomorrow, how the body feels and how I handle the situation.”
Kaymer had his way with a softer, more gentle Pinehurst No. 2 by becomng the first player to open with 65s to set the 36-hole record at 10-under 130.