With the sun making its first appearance of the week, several players jumped into contention on the more elementary front side Saturday, before getting stumped on the more difficult back.
But through it all, Jim Furyk remained in the top spot on the leaderboard. He rammed home a 25-foot birdie putt at the last for a round of 3-under 67. At 10-under-par 200, hes three strokes removed from Australian Stephen Leaney, who had his second-consecutive 68.
Ive always wanted to win a major championship, said Furyk, who has 11 career top-10s in golf's four biggest events without a victory. Obviously, our goal is to go out and win golf tournaments and win major championships. Thats how were judged. Thats what I work for, what Ive wanted to do since I was a kid.
Leaney has won three times on the European Tour, and six times on the Australasian Tour.
'I know how to win tournaments and how to control myself when I start to get away from what I should be thinking,' said the 34-year-old, who missed the cut in his only other U.S. Open appearance, in 1999.
'There's a chance that I can go out tomorrow and have a bad round. But there's also a chance that I can go out and play well and actually win the tournament.'
Furyk's 54-hole aggregate breaks the tournament scoring record by three strokes. But scoring was much harder this time around. After two days where red saturated the scoreboard, only 15 of the 68 players broke par in round three.
Overnight co-leader Vijay Singh is now five behind his Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., neighbor after a 2-over 72.
With a par of 36 on the first nine and a par of 34 on the second, Furyk shot 33-34; Leaney 33-35; Singh 34-38; Jonathan Byrd 34-37; Dicky Pride 32-34; Justin Leonard 34-38; Nick Price 33-36.
The wind picked up, Price said of the conditions as the day wore on. The back nine was very difficult, as you can tell by the scores.
Price and Singh share third place at 5-under. Pride, Byrd, Canadian Ian Leggatt (68) and Argentine Eduardo Romero (70) are tied for fifth place at 4-under.
Notice one glaring omission? That would be defending champion Tiger Woods.
Simply put, Woods just hasnt had It this week. The It that can crush the will of those near his name on the leaderboard.
He failed to make a birdie in the first round. He then went another 16-hole stretch, covering Friday and Saturday, before making one, as well.
Tigers round got off to a foreboding start when a high-pitched whistle resonated from the gallery at the top of his swing on his second shot to the first hole. He shanked his shot dead right, but managed to make par. One of the only positives on the day.
His one-birdie, six-bogey performance left him 11 off the lead in his quest to become the first player since Curtis Strange, in 1988 and 89, to successfully defend his title.
Woods has posted some unimpressive numbers in his last three starts. He shot bookend rounds of 76-75 at the Masters. He had a 76 in the third round of the Memorial. And now a 5-over-par 75 in the third round, his worst score in this event as a professional.
I didnt play that badly, thats the funny thing. I just didnt make anything, said Woods, who took 35 putts in the third round. I could never get a feel for the greens today. They looked fast, but putted slow.
For the record, Arnold Palmer, in 1960 at Cherry Hills, owns the largest final-round comeback in the U.S. Open. He was seven strokes back starting that Sunday and shot 65 to win by two over Jack Nicklaus.
Palmer birdied six of his first seven holes en route to victory. Woods need only to look to Nick Price to know such a start is possible at Olympia Fields.
Price birdied his first four holes, and five of his first six; he then gave away four of those shots over the next six. He dropped all the way to 4-under before birdieing the last.
His downfall began at the par-3 seventh. At 9-under par, and leading the event, he hit his tee shot into the right greenside bunker. The ball buried near the lip and he made bogey.
Price was trying to become just the third man to get to double digits under par in the 103-year history of this championship.
Instead, that distinction belongs to Furyk. After beginning his round with four straight pars, he birdied Nos. 5 and 6. And when he made his putt at the par-4 ninth, he found himself at 10-under par, one shot ahead of Singh.
Woods and Gil Morgan were the only two players to reach double digits under par. Woods finished the 2000 Open at 12-under, while Morgan reached that same mark in 1992 (both came at Pebble Beach).
But, as Morgan found it ' he played his final 29 holes in 17-over to finish eight behind the winner ' its difficult to breath in that rarefied air.
Furyk quickly dropped a shot at the 10th, and then missed a two-foot birdie putt at the par-4 11th.
He remained at 9-under until he made a 40-foot birdie putt at the par-3 15th.
Meanwhile, Singh was at minus-8. He spent most of the third round treading water, making two birdies and one bogey over his first 15 holes. Then he started to sink, bogeying 16, 17 and 18.
The last three holes, Im a little disappointed in the way I finished, Singh said. Theres a lot of holes tomorrow.
Furyk also dropped a shot at the par-3 17th, but finished with a fist-pump birdie at the par-4 finishing hole.
This is the first time that Furyk has taken a lead into the final round of a major championship. He is 0-for-3 in converting 54-hole leads on tour into victory (though he has won three 90-hole events when leading after four rounds.)
My goal was to go out and play a solid round of golf, and put myself in position for Sunday, he said. Mission accomplished.