Facing a major challenge

"I think they've got to know that we're teetering on the edge," said Matt Kuchar, whose round of 71 left him eight strokes back, in a tie for seventh. "And you don't want to have a Shinnecock [2004] all over again. It's close.

"I expect conditions to be really, really challenging, more so than today. That makes birdies awfully tough. Pars are fantastic. It's hard to catch up just by making a bunch of pars. It's going to take a guy shooting 4- or 5-under, one of those amazing rounds, to have a chance."

And it will likely take Kaymer backing up. He did that Saturday, but only slightly, in the end his lead being cut by just that single stroke. Under the circumstances -- and he played with Brendon Todd, who shot a 79 -- it was impressive.

But let's put things in perspective: If Kaymer, Fowler and Compton all shoot those same scores Sunday, there will be a three-way playoff Monday.

"I feel like the course instructs you where to hit it," said Justin Rose, the defending champion and the only major winner among the top 15 players chasing Kaymer -- although he is nine strokes behind. "If you start going at flags -- the chasing pack has got that dilemma. They need to make up shots, but they know they can't get too aggressive around here.

"Martin is playing the same strategy as the guys trying to chase him. I don't know if that plays into his hands or that doesn't. If he starts making mistakes, things get a little tense out there. I feel like there's only one way to play this golf course and that's fairly conservatively."

Kaymer, 29, does not appear to be a man who is tense. Much of that likely has to do with the fact that he feels comfortable with his game, with his swing, after a few years of struggles as he worked on changes after making it to No. 1 in the world.

And then there is his experience. His victory at the PGA Championship four years ago in a playoff over Bubba Watson stamped him as one of the game's up-and-coming players. He was just 25 at the time, but uncomfortable that his arsenal of shots was lacking. So he went to work on it, and now he is 18 holes away from becoming the first player to win the Players Championship and U.S. Open in the same year.

He can also draw on perhaps the most intense moment of his career, when he made the 5-foot clinching putt at the 2012 Ryder Cup on the 18th green. Had that putt not gone in, the Americans might very well have defeated Europe that day.

"I like to be in control of things; it's the way I think a lot of Germans are," Kaymer said. "But at the end of the day, you have to feel on the golf course. You have to create that feel and trust your skill and all the work.

"It's about that feel, that touch, that you play with your heart, that you can't control too many things. That's what I was trying to do the last three years. Now I just play."

And for three days at least, it has worked beautifully at Pinehurst.

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