PINEHURST, N.C. - At the end of the day, Martin Kaymer had given up a little to par and a little to the field, and still he was just fine. He knew that despite entering the last round of the U.S. Open with a five-stroke lead, there are things beyond his control, which is the way he likes it.
He could not control the wind, the firmer greens and tougher pin positions, all of which made Pinehurst No. 2 more difficult Saturday than it had been when he breezed to a pair of 65s. The German player could not control the louder cheers for American players, such as Rickie Fowler, who is tied for second. He couldn't even control the squirrel that scampered near his ball on No. 17. "They live here," he said.
It is all OK for the leader, who shot 2-over-par 72 and is 8 under for the Open. "Well, I watched [The Legend of] Bagger Vance yesterday and he said, 'At the end of the day, we're playing a game.' And that's what we're doing," Kaymer said. "We can't control a lot of things that happen on the golf course. You have to play the game.
"I like to be in control of things. It's the way I think a lot of Germans are. 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," he said, adding that he finally had the comfortable feeling that he could shoot for the flagstick on No. 18, where he made a birdie that gave him confidence and a cushion.
His competitors remained impressed with Kaymer's week, even though he made five bogeys Saturday and fell from 10 under. "If he goes out and posts double digits [under par], it's going to be impossible to catch him. It's like a second tournament going on," said Fowler, who shot 67 to finish 3 under, as did two-time heart transplant recipient Erik Compton.
But there are no guarantees. The last time the Open was held here, in 2005, defending champion Retief Goosen was up by three after three rounds and looked like a lock. He shot 81 and tied for 11th. Kaymer recalled that he was an unseasoned 23-year-old pro when he took a six-shot lead into the final round of the 2008 BMW International Open in his home country. "My lead was gone after 11 holes," he said, adding that he won in a playoff.
So he recognizes that all sorts of mayhem can happen Sunday. "It will be very interesting. It will be interesting to see how we are after nine holes, because at the end of the day, it comes down to the last five, six holes," he said.
There were some interesting moments Sunday, such as the one on the par-4 fourth. Having already made a bogey, he hit his tee shot way left. He was in a washed-out area that he thought merited a free drop. "I didn't really understand the English that the referee was trying to tell me. So I said to my caddie, 'You have to take over here' because he speaks better English than me, even though he's Scottish," Kaymer said.
He took an unplayable lie with a penalty stroke, but saved a bogey 5. He more than made up for that by drilling his second shot on the par-5 fifth within six feet to make eagle.
On the 15th hole, he might have been distracted by a yell from someone who might have, in Kaymer's opinion, spent a good part of the afternoon at the beer counter. He made bogey 4, but wasn't ruffled. He has withstood catcalls to clinch the 2012 Ryder Cup and win the 2014 Players.
He will go out Sunday and just play, until the end of the day. "It will be nice to see how I react," he said, "if I'm leading by five, six, seven shots or I'm down to maybe one or two behind. Everything is still open."