Martin Kaymer knows how to win on golf’s biggest stages.
Sunday, he gets a chance to do it again.
Kaymer, a former world No. 1 who has been in control of the U.S. Open since Thursday’s opening round, takes a five-shot lead into Sunday’s final round at Pinehurst No. 2.
And given his victories at the 2010 PGA Championship and this year’s Players Championship, there’s little reason to think he will shrink from the pressure of playing with the lead in the final round of the Open.
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Kaymer’s playing partner will be Rickie Fowler, whose 3-under-par 67 was one of only two sub-par rounds of the day. Erik Compton, a two-time heart transplant recipient playing in his second Open, was also 3 under and is tied with Fowler in second. A stroke behind Fowler and Compton are Henrik Stenson (70) and Columbia’s Dustin Johnson (70) at 2 under. Brandt Snedeker (72), at 1 under, is the only other player in the field who is below par.
Kaymer’s 2-over 72 was nothing like the twin 65s he carded over the first two rounds, the lowest 36-hole score in Open history. But on a day when pin placements were made tight and tricky and the course played fast, Kaymer stayed comfortably ahead.
He’ll want to keep that feeling Sunday.
“I didn’t play as good as I did the first two days,” Kaymer said. “But the biggest thing (Sunday) is not to try and play like I’m defending anything. I’ll want to go out there and swing freely. I hope that will be the difference.”
Kaymer had four bogeys, but countered them with an eagle on the fifth hole and an affirming birdie on the 18th.
“The 18th was the only hole where you could be aggressive,” Kaymer said. “I was quite happy to get that one.”
Whenever it appeared as if Kaymer was ready to give a shot or two back to his competitors, someone was always willing to hand them back.
The first time it happened was on the second hole, with playing partner Brendon Todd still the closest to him, six strokes back.
After hitting his drive into the sand and wiry grass along the left side of the fairway, Kaymer chunked his approach shot in front of the green. He made bogey (just his second of the tournament). Todd, however, also bogeyed when his putt for birdie rolled off the back of the green.
Todd, who grew up in Cary and whose parents live in Charlotte, would go on to have a frustrating day, shooting a 9-over 79. He’s tied for 30th at 5-over par and wasn’t particularly happy with how difficult the course was laid out after two days of relatively soft conditions.
“I thought there were a number of (pins) that were cut a couple of feet closer to the slope,” said Todd, who will play with Phil Mickelson on Sunday. “Because we had a guy that was 10-under par, it was a little bit of a revenge day (by the U.S. Golf Association), I think.”
Kaymer also appeared to be vulnerable after he bogeyed No. 13, which shrunk his lead over Kevin Na to four shots. But Na, playing one hole in front of Kaymer, double-bogeyed No. 14 and Kaymer’s lead was back to six.
Na continued to melt down, taking another double bogey on No. 16 and finishing at 3 over. He’s even par for the tournament and eight strokes behind Kaymer.
Compton, who has overcome heart problems to become the tournament’s feel-good story, had birdies over four of five holes in the middle of his round.
And then there’s Fowler, who wasn’t happy with how he drove the ball on his way to a five-birdie, two-bogey day. But he’s at least within hailing distance of Kaymer.
Fowler knows that however well he plays Sunday will be tempered by how Kaymer – firmly in command since Thursday – plays.
“It’s like a second tournament,” Fowler said. “(We’ll see) what Martin does.”