| Vijai Singh of Fiji hits from the fairway on the 13th hole at Olympia Fields Country Club during the third round of the US Open Saturday
After two days of playing cushy-soft host to a game that sometimes resembled lawn arts, the 103rd US Open course on Saturday definitely got a lot more difficult to understand — starting with the 54-hole leaderboard.
To have Jim Furyk and Stephen Leaney leading the Sunday charge at Olympia Fields is probably not what anyone in America or NBC had in mind, but this is what you get sometimes when Tiger Woods’ putts don’t drop and his allergies kick in.
Furyk, who shared the 36-hole lead with Vijai Singh, shot three-under 67 on Saturday and is 10-under 200, breaking by three shots the 54-hole US Open scoring record last matched by Lee Janzen in 1993 at Baltusrol.
Furyk owns a three-shot lead over Leaney with 18 to play.
“For the most part I don’t think I’ve sat overnight on Saturday with a three-shot lead before,” Furyk said. He forgot to add the “gulp.” It was Furyk’s third consecutive round in the 60s as he takes a few spike steps toward winning his first major title.
“Any major will do,” he joked. “But now that we’re here at the US Open, that sounds good.”
There isn’t an Ernie Els, Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson within shooting distance of Furyk.
Woods, three shots back at the start of Saturday play, shot five-over 75 and is one-over 211 overall and, barring a miracle, he will not win his ninth major championship.
Instead, Furyk must hold off Leaney, a 34-year-old unknown from Australia who once won the Moroccan Open.
Leaney shot 68 to put himself in this improbable position. He sits at seven-under 203 after 54 holes and you could almost hear his knees knocking from the clubhouse.
This is only his second US Open appearance after missing the cut in 1999.
“I don’t have anything to draw on,” he confessed. Sitting five shots behind Furyk is Nick Price, a superstar in his time but, at age 46, this wasn’t supposed to be his time. Price shot a roller-coaster 72 Saturday and is five-under 205 for the tournament.
Singh matched his playing partner, Furyk, shot-for-shot until late on the back nine, when bogeys on the last three holes turned a perfectly fine round into a 72. Singh enters Sunday’s final round at 205, with a lot of negative swing thoughts.
“Thank God it’s still Saturday,” Singh said. “I have to go out there and catch up. “I don’t expect Jimmy to slip too much.”
Furyk got to 10 under par twice Saturday, topping his day with a long birdie putt on No. 18.
Only two other players in history have been double digits under par during the tournament, both feats accomplished at Pebble Beach. Gil Morgan reached 12 under at the 1992 US Open before collapsing, and Woods won at Pebble Beach in 2000 at 12-under 272.
After playing soft for three days, soft wind and sunshine allowed Olympia Fields to answer with a mild counter punch.
Only 19 players played Saturday’s round under par, compared to 26 players after 36 holes.
Wacky round of the day' It was Price’s all the way.
Starting his day at four under, he birdied his first four holes and five of the first six to take the lead at nine under. “You dream about starting like that in a major championship,” Price said.
What you don’t dream about is what happened next, four bogeys on the next five holes, and another on No. 16. “I was leaking oil, no doubt,” Price said of his rough stretch.
Price recovered with a nice save on the 252-yard par-three 17th, then made birdie on 18.At 46, and only five shots back, Price will try to become the oldest player to win a US Open.
With three majors already claimed, Price said earlier this week he thought he had one more run left in him — and this might be it.
Price went to bed Saturday night with a wish list. “To have my bread and butter Sunday with my driver,” he said. Price also knows Furyk has never known the final round pressure he will feel Sunday in his quest for his first major.
“You don’t win the US Open on Saturday,” Price said. “The top five, six on the leaderboard are aware of that. The fight starts tomorrow on the back nine.”
The fight ended Saturday for Tom Watson, another old-timer trying to make a mark in this major.
After his remarkable 65 Thursday, and a 72 Friday, the 53-year-old Watson shot 75 Saturday and is two over for the tournament and too far back to think he can stretch this dream another day.
Watson’s big problem Saturday was that he hit only eight of 14 fairways. “You’ve got to keep it inside the goal posts down there and I kept shanking it,” Watson said of his problems off the tee.
And then, finally, there was the never-ending day of Woods, who appeared poised to make a big Saturday run.
Instead, he sneezed and shot himself out of the US Open.
He hit only nine fairways but mostly can blame his pitiful putting. Woods needed 35 putts on Day 3, 10 more than he needed Friday. “I made nothing today,” he said. “I could never get a feel for the line.”