PINEHURST, N.C. -- After Martin Kaymer made golf look so effortless at the demanding Pinehurst No. 2 course through the first two days of the U.S. Open, he showed Saturday that the game can come back and bite.
However, despite some wayward drives and misread putts, Kaymer lost just 1 stroke off his substantial margin from the day before and entered Sunday's final round of the 114th national championship with a 5-shot lead.
The golf wasn't nearly as pristine for the 29-year-old citizen of Germany, who became the first contestant in U.S. Open history to card back-to-back rounds of 65. But he still tied for the third-best 54-hole score ever at an Open, 8-under-par 202, after a 72 that he punctuated with a 10-foot birdie putt at No. 18.
"Obviously after the first two days, for me, it's OK to hit some poor shots once in a while, so it was acceptable," Kaymer said. "You can't play great golf every day. 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 OK. And that's what I did."
Kaymer's newest pursuers on Sunday will be Rickie Fowler, who is paired with him in the final group at 3:35 p.m., and Erik Compton. Both Fowler and Compton tied for best round of the day at 67, the only subpar scores among the 67 contestants who remained after the cut, and stood at 207.
Henrik Stenson, the world's No. 2-ranked player, and Dustin Johnson each carded a 70 and tied for fourth at 208, 1 stroke ahead of Brandt Snedeker, who had a 72. Only six players enter Sunday's play under par for the championship.
The golf course played much tougher Saturday than it did in the first two rounds. The average of 73.821 was almost a stroke higher than the day before.
Kaymer, who had one bogey in his first two rounds, started shaky. After a bogey at the brutal second hole, he pulled his tee shot at No. 4 into the pines. Rather than try to punch out from a difficult lie, he took an unplayable lie, costing him 1 stroke. He hit out of the trees, knocked his fourth shot to within 15 feet, and made the putt for a terrific bogey.
"I didn't deserve to make par, but bogey would have been acceptable," he said of his thinking following the poor tee shot. "So that was quite nice."
Kaymer drained a 6-foot putt for eagle at No. 5 to get back to 10-under and a 7-shot lead. The margin dropped to as low as four after his bogey on 13, and again after bogey at the 15th. But the birdie on 18 -- his only one of the day -- provided an extra cushion.
Fowler and Compton, who each began the day tied for 14th and 10 strokes behind Kaymer, crept up the leader board with solid play. Fowler, 25, carded five birdies, and the 34-year-old Compton, who has undergone two heart transplant surgeries, had an eagle and five birdies.
They'll be the closest to Kaymer when play resumes Sunday, maybe or maybe not aware of the fact that only two of the last nine third-round leaders in the U.S. Open have gone on to win -- Tiger Woods at Torrey Pines in 2008 and Rory McIlroy at Congressional in 2011.
Kaymer said he is ready for anything on Sunday.
"The biggest challenge is that you keep going, that you don't try to defend anything," he said. "It will be nice to see how I react. If I'm leading by 5 or 6, or if I'm down 1 or 2, everything is still open."
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