PINEHURST, N.C. — Not even Martin Kaymer was immune from a Pinehurst No. 2 course that restored the reputation of the 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.
Mike Brady is the only other player to lose a five-shot lead. That was in 1919 at Brae Burn Country Club in Massachusetts. He shot 80 in the last round, and Walter Hagen beat him the next day in a playoff.