Kaymer holds steady, but door ajar for Sunday

Saturday, June 14, 2014

PINEHURST, N.C. – Martin Kaymer fell off whatever planet he’d been on and came back to Pinehurst. His day-three 72 wasn’t otherworldly, like those back-to-back 65s, but it was tidy enough to give him a five-shot lead heading into Sunday at the U.S. Open.

The 29-year-old German machine wasn’t leaking oil, more like trying to escape a tough third-round setup that yielded only two red numbers.

“I felt like today if you had 25 feet or 30 feet on every green you’ve done well,” said Kaymer, who knocked in a birdie putt on the 18th as the shadows grew long for added exclamation. A victory Sunday would make him the first German to win the U.S. Open. He'd also win the Hallmark Double: Victories on both Mother's Day and Father's Day.

Two sensational storylines are giving chase, with miracle man Erik Compton and flat-billed hotshot Rickie Fowler tied for second after stout 67s. Fowler likened Kaymer to Bubba Watson at this year’s Masters.

“He was so far out in front that you can't focus on him,” said Fowler. “I can put myself in contention with the rest of the group, and see what Martin does. If he goes out and posts double digits, it's going to be impossible for us to catch him. It's like a second tournament going on.”

Fowler’s 67 included only 24 putts. A hot putter always bodes well for confidence in a final round. Fowler paid tribute to Payne Stewart on Thursday by wearing knickers, but said Sunday’s wardrobe will be “straight up orange.”

He’s an obvious crowd favorite, though few men on Tour carry with them a story as inspiring as 34-year-old Erik Compton.

Last month at Muirfield Village, Compton had lunch with Jack Nicklaus.

“He said that if I got here I’d have a special week,” said Compton. And then Nicklaus winked.

Maybe it’s self-fulling on Compton’s part, maybe it’s destiny. Whatever the case, Nicklaus was right.

Early in the week Compton played a money game with Ernie Els, Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel and felt comfortable playing alongside the three major champions.

“I joked around with them,” Compton said, “told them I was the Mexican Open champion.”

Saturday morning, Chi Chi Rodriguez called Compton to predict a low round and remind him of his toughness.

“A lot of the legends of the game have taken an interest in my story,” said Compton.

“They know that people’s backgrounds and life stories are more important than just golf.”

On Sunday at Pinehurst, millions of golf fans around the world will learn more about the guy who survived two heart transplants to make it on the PGA Tour. It’s a tough balance sometimes, trying be an ordinary guy on the Tour playing under extraordinary circumstances.

Compton’s goal this week was to fly under the radar. His wife and child are back home in Florida because he wanted complete focus at his second major championship appearance. His parents are here, but he’s lovingly avoiding them to get in the right mindset.

Compton, playing in his third full year on the PGA Tour, feels he has nothing to lose Sunday.

“Nobody expects me to do anything,” he said.

The same can’t be said for Kaymer, who is looking to become the first player to win both The Players Championship and the U.S. Open in the same season. The 2010 PGA Championship winner is making his 26th start in a major championship, enough to know that on a track like No. 2, even a five-shot lead can diminish quickly.

“You could see it today,” Kaymer said. “I made three bogeys the first six holes.”

Since 2005, only Rory McIlroy (2011) and Tiger Woods (2008) went on win the U.S. Open after holding the third-round lead.

The challenge tomorrow, Kaymer explained, will be to “not try to defend anything.”

“Because if you try to defend then you're not free enough,” Kaymer said.

“So we'll see how it will react tomorrow, how the body feels, and how I handle the situation.”

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