Facebook Twitter



Somewhere out there is the U.S. Open champion, waiting in fear for one last walk in the chilling shadow of the cruel monster known as Oakland Hills Country Club.

Maybe it's Tom Lehman, the third-round leader at 2-under-par 208 after a course record-tying 65 on Saturday. He's been there before and knows the pressure.Maybe it's Steve Jones, a stroke back but untested in the cauldron of major championship final-round play.

Or maybe it is one of the dozen other players within four strokes of the lead, an impressive group that includes Ernie Els, Frank Nobilo, Davis Love III, Colin Montgomerie, Sam Torrance and Tom Watson.

It could even be Greg Norman - five strokes back, the same margin Lehman trailed by before Saturday's round.

Whomever it is, the brutal course with its crushing five finishing holes will have a lot to say about who wins this Open. Prepare for a final round filled with ferocious backpedaling.

If a lot of golf balls plunked into the water, buried in the rough, skittered across slick greens and spun out of the cup on Saturday - that was likely only a placid prelude of what will happen on Sunday.

Oakland Hills gets an unfair and unfriendly ally on Sunday - final-round U.S. Open pressure. It's help this hard course doesn't need.

"I'll take even par right now, no doubt about it," Jones said after shooting a 69 to get to 1-under. Only he and Lehman were below par through 54 holes.

"Sunday coming down the stretch, you can see what happens," Jones said about the pressure of a major championship.

It will be an especially trying ordeal at Oakland Hills, where golf is a punishing game of "Don't."

Don't miss the fairway, the rough is too deep. Don't miss the green, the chips are too difficult. Don't put the approach shot on the wrong part of the green, the ridges that divide them are too steep. And don't putt too firmly, the ball will never stop rolling.

Does the word "intimidation" come to mind?

While Lehman was masterful with his 65 on a day when the course averaged 72.9, it was also clear how quickly things can change. Lehman started the day five strokes behind midway leader Payne Stewart and finished six ahead of him.

Don't be surprised if something like that happens in Sunday's final round. This is still a wide-open Open.

Lehman has gotten this far in the Open before. Now he needs to get over a hump as big as the ridges that run across the Oakland Hills greens.

Last year the 37-year-old Lehman was tied for the lead with Norman going into the last round at Shinnecock, shot a 74 and finished third.

"It's kind of like deja vu," he said after his record round. "Hopefully I've learned something in a year. I think I got a little impatient last year and made some bogeys I shouldn't have made. I like my spot."

While it was an enviable spot, it was also a dangerous one with so many big names lurking about.

"The last day, the pressure factor, two or three shots back is not a bad place to be," Lehman said before his round. "That's where Corey (Pavin) was last year when he won."

Lehman's round included a 33 on the treacherous back nine and he played the fearsome final five holes 1 under par, making a great par save on No. 18 when he got up and down from a very difficult stance in the bunker.

That stretch was the difference as player after player faded on the brutal finishing holes, none more so than Els and Stewart.

Both had trouble with rough and rocks on No. 16, Els making a double bogey and Stewart a triple bogey.

Els, who was 3-under at one point, shot a 39 on the back nine for a 72 to be three strokes back at 211. Stewart, who started the day 2-under, unravelled even worse, shooting a 41 on the back nine for a 76 to be six back at 214.

Norman missed a 1-foot putt on 17 and shot a 74 to be five back after starting the day just a stroke out of the lead.

Jones survived Oakland Hills despite missing five fairways on the back nine and handled the difficult finishing holes almost as well as Lehman, playing them even par and finishing with a birdie on No. 18, the hardest hole on the course.

"That's the first day I hit that green," Jones said. "I'm real pleased with my position."

Lehman got going quickly when he hit a 4-wood to 20 feet on the par-5 second hole and two-putted for a birdie, He followed with a 5-iron to a foot on the next hole for a tap-in birdie.

He was magnificent on the back nine, where he escaped without a bogey and made a 6-foot birdie putt on No. 11 and a 30-footer on 16.

"It was just one of those days when the putter got going pretty well and the crowd got behind me," Lehman said.

"It's almost beyond your wildest dreams to shoot 65 at Oakland Hills," Lehman said. "I wish I could do that on Sunday."

If he does, he'll have a U.S. Open title by a mile.

The feeling hangs heavy in the humid Michigan air that The Monster, the brutal Oakland Hills Country Club, is saving its most devious acts for Sunday's final round.



U.S. Open leaders

Tom Lehman 71-72-65-208

Steve Jones 74-66-69-209

John Morse 68-74-68-210

Frank Nobilo 69-71-70-210

Davis Love III 71-69-70-210

Woody Austin 67-72-72-211

Ernie Els 72-67-72-211

Sam Torrance 71-69-71-211

Colin Montgomerie 70-72-69-211

Jim Furyk 72-69-70-211

Tom Watson 70-71-71-212

John Cook 70-71-71-212

Stewart Cink 69-73-70-212

Ken Green 73-67-72-212