The conclusion to the 2014 U.S. Open is already imminent. Sunday's final round will crown a champion at Pinehurst No. 2 in the season's second major, and when the top contenders tee off in the later afternoon, it will be worth monitoring the leaderboard scores.
There are so many spots of bother at Pinehurst, due primarily to its wicked-fast greens. Pin placements are sure to be as tough as they've been all week, too. The complexion of the championship can turn in an instant, so golf fans should be excited to see how the drama unfolds.
Martin Kaymer is eight under par overall and has been leading the whole way, yet he seemed to imply after his third-round 72 that his big lead is deceptive:
"I played a good round, especially at the start. I kept it together well. It's nice to have a lead, but it can vanish."Martin Kaymer #USOpen— U.S. Open (USGA) (@usopengolf) June 15, 2014
The following leaderboard widget is useful to see how the best players are faring, and the tournament's official website is also a good resource to consult.
Below is a breakdown of the top storylines entering the final round, as Kaymer seeks to cap off what's been a brilliant week overall with a strong Sunday and a wire-to-wire triumph.
Top U.S. Open Day 4 Storylines
Pinehurst No. 2: Don't Call It a Comeback
The redesign by renowned golf architects Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore got rid of the thick rough that flanked the fairways in the past. Wet conditions wound up yielding lower scores in the first two rounds, highlighted by Kaymer's U.S. Open record score of 130 over the first 36 holes.
But Pinehurst No. 2 has been here for years, always posing a most extreme challenge. It fought back hard on Saturday, figuratively knocking out the majority of golfers in yielding just two sub-par rounds. Kaymer birdied the par-four 18th to salvage a very respectable 72.
Mike O'Malley of Golf Digest noted how scores ballooned with far fewer players in the field:
Field scoring averages: Round 1: 73.2306 Round 2: 72.8913 Round 3: 73.8209 All rounds: 73.1952— Mike O'Malley (@GD_MikeO) June 14, 2014
The weekend cut trimmed a lot of players who were not in strong enough form to score well amid the favorable conditions. Saturday showed just how difficult Pinehurst was playing, with the best of the best averaging almost seven tenths of a stroke higher.
Kenny Perry, the oldest player in the field at 53, who also happened to have a miraculous hole-out for eagle in the third round, described the difficulty after his round was over, per PGATour.com's Brian Wacker:
That's a bold statement, but not one that many others competing in the 2014 U.S. Open would deem hyperbolic. AccuWeather.com has the Pinehurst forecast as clear and hot for Sunday, so the course should dry out and firm up even more.
Such conditions will make red numbers even harder to come by. As long as Kaymer can keep steady and make pars, such a development works to his advantage.
Dynamic Duo in Final Pairing
Joining Kaymer in the final twosome to tee off is Rickie Fowler, whose score of 67 matched the best of Round 3 by far.
Fowler had just 24 putts, making up for a lack of accuracy off the tee. However, putting himself in position will be pivotal to his chances of stealing the championship from Kaymer. The young American star is not known for his prowess with the flat iron, and on the slick surfaces of Pinehurst, he can't count on that to bail him out as he prepares for a huge opportunity.
Kyle Porter of CBS Sports poked a bit of fun at Retief Goosen, who shot 81 as the 54-hole leader in the 2005 U.S. Open at Pinehurst:
Fowler is going to have somebody deliver Retief Goosen's 2005 final-round highlights to Kaymer's rental house tonight.— Kyle Porter (@KylePorterCBS) June 14, 2014
Michael Campbell went on to win that year, having begun the day four shots off the pace. That makes the current deficit Fowler faces not seem so daunting. This is the U.S. Open, and perhaps more than any other major, anything can happen with the trouble that lurks at every turn.
Given that Kaymer has been ranked No. 1 in the world before, is a major champion and just won the Players Championship this season, it seems unlikely.
A lack of consistency has plagued Fowler in his young career, resulting in just one PGA Tour win.
But if Fowler pulls off this comeback, doubts about his abilities will seldom surface again. He has the firepower to get it done, has avoided the big numbers this week and won't be afraid to be aggressive. Work with new swing coach Butch Harmon is starting to pay real dividends in Fowler's long game, and if he keeps putting as he did Saturday, he has a chance.
Check out the select company Kaymer has a chance to join, per Golf Channel's Justin Ray:
Only European-born player to win 2 majors, 10 @EuropeanTour titles & be world no. 1 before age 30 is Seve Ballesteros. Kaymer would be 2nd.— Justin Ray (@JustinRayGC) June 14, 2014
There's a lot at stake for both of these players, but Kaymer has far more to lose given the size of his lead and what he will have accomplished before even entering his perceived prime.
Erik Compton Perseveres for Shot at Dream Win
Tied with Fowler in second is Erik Compton, a man who has undergone so much just to have a chance to play golf—much less to contend in a major.
At just 5'8" and 150 pounds, according to his PGATour.com profile, Compton wasn't exactly tabbed as a horse for the Pinehurst course. However, his lack of distance off the tee has been more than compensated by brilliance with the putter and a massive heart.
And that latter attribute is meant in the literal sense as well. Compton is a two-time heart transplant recipient, so it makes sense that he has uncommon perspective on his chances at the U.S. Open trophy:
Erik Compton: "I've been through a few situations in life that are much more high-pressure than hitting a tee shot." pic.twitter.com/XXbelQE250— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) June 14, 2014
Just to compete in this North Carolina heat and play passable professional golf is nothing short of remarkable and inspiring. After a career round in which he fired a three-under 67 on Saturday, suddenly Compton is in with a chance at the top prize.
Both Kaymer and Fowler have more to offer with a U.S. Open win in terms of career upside and how their trajectories will impact the game moving forward. However, there's no doubt Compton's winning storyline would take the cake over anyone's.
Golf Channel's Kelly Tilghman agreed with that assertion:
I'm pressed to think of a better story in sports than 2x heart transplant recipient Erik Compton winning golf's hardest championship.— Kelly Tilghman (@KellyTilghmanGC) June 14, 2014
Forget sports for a second. The story of his perseverance and how Compton has overcome near-impossible odds offers a universal triumph anyone can appreciate. It's already remarkable to have a sense of what Compton has done given his unique, adverse set of circumstances.
Who will win the 2014 U.S. Open?
This is really Kaymer's tournament to lose. The fact that he has a shot at going the distance at both the Players and the U.S. Open in the same year is a testament to the type of transcendent game he has.
Conditions are probably too tough for anyone to apply pressure in the form of birdies. It's up to Kaymer to fall back to the rest of the field to give anyone else a chance.
Should Kaymer hang on, he may well establish himself as the next legitimate superstar in golf. With so many accolades under his belt before his 30s, Kaymer has experienced the struggles of swing changes along with enough victories to prepare himself for a real run.
Supposing he wins the 114th U.S. Open, don't be surprised if Kaymer turns out to be one of the greatest players of his generation. But if he blows it, the damage could see the German go into a tailspin and never be the same.
Most of what separates the top players at this level of golf is the mental game. Spectators will get a better idea of what's between Kaymer's ears on Sunday.
There are few better tests than the dilemma of protecting a huge advantage in pursuit a second major title and still playing to win.