Erik Compton has weathered far more treacherous situations than having to deal with devilish pin placements on firm, sun-baked greens. So, while Toru Taniguchi, Russell Henley, Kevin Tway, and Boo Weekley may share a different view of the U.S. Open conditions that finally broke out in Saturday’s third round at Pinehurst -- as might pre-tourney favorite Rory McIlroy and 54-hole leader Martin Kaymer -- you won’t hear Compton complain about the hole locations.
"I felt really comfortable out there. I picked good targets and aggressive swings, pulled off a lot of great shots on the front nine and then -- " Compton paused while speaking with NBC after matching Rickie Fowler’s 3-under 67 for the low round of the day.
"You know," Compton continued, "I’m just really happy to be here."
Compton, 34, is competing in his second U.S. Open after surviving two heart transplants, the first in 1992 when he was 12, and the other in 2008, two years before he missed the cut in the 2010 national championship at Pebble Beach. So you’ll have to forgive the Florida native, who drove himself to the hospital after suffering a heart attack in 2007 that he told the News-Record he was sure was going to kill him, if the USGA toughening up a course that Kaymer made mincemeat of in the first two rounds does not really faze him.
"I just try to hit fairways and greens. It shouldn’t feel different than any other tournament," Compton, who has two T5s as well as five missed cuts in 19 starts this season, told reporters. "I have been through a lot in my life ... a lot more adrenaline pressure situations than hitting a tee shot on 18. Putting things in perspective may help me."
Others in the field were not so forgiving of the unforgiving 7,422-yard tester that featured three par-4 holes playing longer than 500 yards each, the "turtleback" greens averaging 12.5 on the Stimpmeter, and five pins set within five yards of the rims of the greens.
The more demanding layout yielded a 73.82-stroke average, compared with 72.89 for round two on Friday, which also saw 36 players in red numbers compared to the two on Saturday.
"Obviously, the course was playing tough, it was playing much tougher today," Sergio Garcia said after carding a 72 that put him at 6-over and tied for 35th. "Drying up a little bit and a little bit windier, the long holes were playing into the wind, all of them, pretty much. So they were very, very challenging."
Kaymer, who held on to a five-shot lead even after posting a 72, agreed.
"I felt today, if you have 25 feet or 30 feet on every green, you’ve done well," he told NBC. "The USGA put the pins in at very, very tough positions."
Mickelson, who, despite adding a 72 to his 70-73 to end the day in a tie for 30th, welcomed the "sterner test" the course offered.
"I think they probably could have put some of it in the first two days, where there were maybe some tougher pins," he said. "So I think it's good."
The guys in the 80s --Taniguchi, Henley, Tway, and Weekley (88, 82, 81, 80, respectively) -- probably had other opinions, which they apparently chose not to share with the media. McIlroy (74 and 3-over for the week) also might have veered from Mickelson’s outlook.
The pre-tourney favorite got off to a shaggy start, bogeying the 515-yard par-4 second hole. It did not get any easier for the two-time major champion, whose two birdies were no match for the six bogeys on his card. McIlroy showed some frustration when, head down, he slapped his thigh after hitting a 6-iron to the green and watching his par putt slide by the hole on the 530-yard par-5.
Of course, if you jar a long shot from the "stuff," as they call the sandy, weedy areas that Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore restored to Donald Ross’ course in place of traditional tall and juicy U.S. Open rough, the course seems just a tad easier.
"I'm in a bunker, I hit a poor 5-wood off the tee and this came out perfect and it looked, I thought it was going to go over the green and then all of a sudden people started jumping up in the air and it had perfect speed on it. That's the longest shot I've ever made ever in my life, period, from 220 out of a bunker with a hybrid," Kenny Perry, at 53 the oldest player in the field, recounted about the eagle he made on the 479-yard par-4 14th.
"Full iron hybrid, just kind of hit it over the cross bunker up there and just landed over it and ran it on the green and it just kept rolling," added Perry, whose scorecard sported three bogeys, two doubles, and a birdie as well. "I was expecting to watch it roll over the back. Then I saw everybody jump up in the air, I knew it went in the hole.
"It was pretty special."
That it was, especially on a track with what Perry called "the hardest setup I’ve ever experienced in a major championship."