On a day when the USGA made Pinehurst exceedingly difficult, Martin Kaymer held firm and shot 72, allowing him to carry a five shot lead heading into Sunday's final round at the 2014 U.S. Open.
Defending a big lead in team sports always seems to be a little more difficult than it should be, and the same is true in golf as well. When Adam Scott and Rory McIlroy were asked what Kaymer would be going through on Saturday, their response was that it was more difficult to hold a big lead because the temptation is to change the way you got there in the first place, and while Kaymer didn't do that in the third round, he was up and down most of the day.
He started with three bogeys, two pars and an eagle in his first six holes and while the scoring became more consistent on the back nine, the consistency that we saw over the first two days really just wasn't there. He started to miss with the driver a little bit, but was saved with some superb recovery shots out of the natural areas and the putter was pretty good for most of the day. What saved him mostly was that every time he slipped up, one of the challengers in front of him went backwards too. Still though, he's got a five shot lead, which is exactly where he wants to be heading into Sunday as he tries to win his second major championship.
So, Kaymer was the big story over the first two days of the tournament, but for the most part, the other players in the field were scoring at a better rate than we are used to at the U.S. Open as well. Part of that was the humid and rainy weather that made the course a little soft and that the natural areas weren't as penal as most thought, but that all changed during Saturday's third round.
Just two players finished the round under par, with most players finishing around the 5-over par number or worse, including four players in the 80's. So, what caused this change? The Pinehurst area was a little cooler on Saturday and the rain held off, allowing the course to firm up and play much faster, but that wasn't even the big reason for the drastic change in scores.
The USGA, as they usually do when scoring gets a little lower than they'd like, set up the course to play much more difficult. When the pin sheet was released early on Saturday morning, it was clear what was happening and that it was going to be very difficult for the players to go at the flags with how tucked they were.
When you combine that with how fast the greens were on the Stimpmeter and the hard runoffs that Pinehurst is known for, you have a situation where if a player takes a run at the hole with the putter, they were running the risk of putting right off the green, which we saw several times on Saturday.
It's going to be interesting to see how the USGA sets everything up for Sunday. It's not going to be easy, that's for sure.
Rickie Fowler and Erik Compton were the only players under par on Saturday at Pinehurst, and they went real low, both posting 3-under par 67's. Fowler's round allowed him to get into the final group with Kaymer, and he's really the kind of player that can push Kaymer, despite being down by five shots. Fowler's 24 putts were the best of the day, and even if he can't catch Kaymer on Sunday, it'll be an important day for him.
Fowler has been looked at as a bit of a disappointment since winning at Quail Hollow back in 2012, but he's had a good record in big events like this one and is still looking to get onto Tom Watson's Ryder Cup team this September. There's a lot riding on this for Fowler.
As for Compton, there's an argument to be made that he would be the greatest story in golf history if he could pull off a win on Sunday. Compton's a two-time heart transplant recipient and has battled his way back to the PGA Tour in recent years, but wasn't qualified for this event on merit. He went through sectional qualifying in Columbus, surviving a five-man playoff to get one of the three remaining spots for that site.
Compton has yet to win on the PGA Tour, and he has a chance with a good round on Sunday to get that maiden victory at the U.S. Open. With everything he's gone through, it doesn't get much better than that.