The brittle grass played like concrete. Then the wind showed up at the US Open, and Shinnecock Hills was scarier than ever. The one constant Saturday was the unflappable Retief Goosen.
The coolest customer in any conditions, Goosen had a 1-under 69 -- one of only three guys to break par -- and wound up with a two-shot lead when Masters champion Phil Mickelson stumbled down the stretch.
"The course has been smiling the last couple of days, showing its nice teeth," Corey Pavin said. "Today, those teeth turned into fangs."
Goosen was one of the few who was able to bite back, recovering from a few loose shots with two birdies late in the third round that put him at 5-under 205.
Mickelson and Ernie Els, the stars from the shootout at the Masters that gave Mickelson his first major, were right behind on a links-styled course where two shots can be lost with one swing.
"We won't have any type of finish like we had at Augusta," Mickelson said. "What we will have is guys outlasting each other, who can make the most pars before somebody bogeys, that type of thing."
In other words, a typical US Open.
Mickelson was tied for the lead until he made bogey from a plugged lie in the bunker at No. 17, then missed a 4-foot par putt on the final hole that cost him a chance to be in the final pairing Sunday. He shot 73, his first round over par in the majors this year.
Els battled back from back-to-back bogeys and an even-par 70.
"That's as hard as a US Open gets right there," said Els, a two-time winner of golf's toughest test. "From 1 to 10 in difficulty, it's an 11."
Had Goosen not missed a 5-foot birdie on the 18th his lead could have been even bigger. But the easygoing South African is not one to lose sleep over a missed chance like that.
Remember, he three-putted from 12 feet on the final hole of the 2001 US Open at Southern Hills, and bounced back to rout Mark Brooks in an 18-hole playoff the next day.
And while he looks like he's half-asleep on the course, he is churning inside like the rest of them.
"Major championships are not easy to just have a nice laugh around the course," Goosen said. "It's hard work, and a lot of grinding."
Shigeki Maruyama, one of five players who had at least a share of the lead at some point, chopped up the 18th and missed a short putt to take double bogey, giving him a 74. He was at 2-under 208, along with Fred Funk (72).
Tiger Woods was one of the few guys who got in the last word, holing out a lob wedge for eagle on the 18th that salvaged his pride, but probably not his chances. Woods shot 73 and was eight shots behind, headed toward an eighth straight major without a trophy.
The last five US Open champions had at least a share of the lead going into the final round.
"Retief ... he's got the perfect temperament and a hell of a game," Els said. "I've got to play my game. I've got to play as good as I can."
Another South African had the best round of the day -- Tim Clark, who teed off about two hours before the leaders and shot a 66 that moved him within four shots of the lead at 1-under 209. Joining him was Jeff Maggert, who got to 7 under par and had a two-shot lead until playing the final 13 holes in 6 over par.
"I try and look at the humor of it, but it's tough when you're out there struggling," Maggert said.
Even before Mickelson got to Shinnecock Hills, it was clear this would be a day of survival. It happens every year at the US Open, when the grass gets crusty and firm and the best players in the world get beaten up.