He had plenty of company.
After two days of lower-than-expected scores, Pinehurst No. 2 showed its bite at the U.S. Open on Saturday.
Kaymer, who made only one bogey the first two days, had four of them through 13 holes in the third round. But the brutal course was tough on everyone, keeping the 29-year-old German comfortably ahead — a five-shot gap on a group that included Rickie Fowler and Erik Compton, both of whom shot 3-under 67 for the best rounds of the day.
Former Etowah High School standout Chris Kirk began the day in a tie for 10th place, and he stayed right there after a third-round 72 left him at 1-over par and nine shots back of the lead.
Kirk is well on his way to his best U.S. Open finish of his career. The only other time he made the cut was in 2008 when he tied for 78th. A solid round today would also likely give him his best finish in a major. He finished tied for 20th in April at the Masters.
Kaymer made a brilliant bogey at the fourth, after he took an unplayable lie, and an eagle at the par-5 fifth helped offset the mistakes.
Compton, a two-time heart transplant recipient, ripped off four birdies and an eagle in a seven-hole stretch to surge into contention.
“The conditions are extremely difficult,” he said. “But when it gets really hard, that’s when I seem to get really focused.”
Fowler is one of the most popular players at Pinehurst, but he has only one career victory on the PGA Tour.
This would be quite a place to get another win.
“I just hung in there,” Fowler said. “I hit a lot of great shots into the greens, and got up and down when I needed to.”
Also at 3 under were Henrik Stenson and Dustin Johnson. Kevin Na was making a run at Kaymer until a double bogey at No. 14 knocked the American back to 2 under.
With no rain to soften the perilous turtleback greens and devious pin placements making it tough to get anywhere close to the flags, the storied course produced the sort of portly numbers that had been expected from the beginning of the tournament.
“That was 18 of the toughest pins I’ve ever seen,” Kenny Perry said. “That’s probably the hardest setup I’ve ever experienced in a major championship. There’s no room for error.”
The 53-year-old Perry actually hit the shot of the day, a 220-yard hybrid out of the sand at No. 14 that bounced onto the green and rolled in for eagle. That helped him shoot a 4-over 74 — not bad in these conditions.
As the last group made the turn, just 11 players were in single-digits off the lead. It remained Kaymer’s tournament to lose.
Phil Mickelson steadied his putting stroke a bit but still shot 72, not the sort of score he needed to get in contention for his first U.S. Open title.
Lefty has been the runner-up in this championship a record six times, denying him the only title he needs to complete a career Grand Slam.