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Justin Rose in sight of second major as he closes in on Gary Woodland to set up US Open final round

James Corrigan
Rose reeled off four birdies on his last 11 holes to shoot a 68 and reach 10-under - REX

A second US Open title has come tantalisingly into vision for Justin Rose after another drama-filled round on the Monterey Peninsula. With a birdie on the last, the Englishman moved to within one shot of leader Gary Woodland and set up an irresistible Sunday shootout. 

Thanks to that nerveless 11-footer, Rose reduced the deficit to the lowest it had been all day. Woodland threatened to run away with it early on when claiming a four-shot advantage having gone through the first six in two-under.  

But despite watching his playing partner make two outrageous par saves on the back nine, Rose continued his remarkable week on and around the greens, reeling off four birdies on his last 11 holes to shoot a 68 and reach 10-under.

“Today wasn’t perfect and my shortgame did keep me in it,” Rose said. “But I hit enough clutch shots and good shots to feel good going into tomorrow.” 

Rose took only 23 putts, meaning that he has single-putted 35 times in the first 54 holes - a truly astonishing stat. If he is correct and his ball-striking is improving then he has to be the favourite to follow up on his 2013 triumph. Saying that, the  38-year-old does recognise that Woodland will be “a tough nut to crack”. 

“Those pars Gary made on the 12th and the 14th were incredible,” Rose said, reflecting on the chip-in on the par-four and then the 50-footer on the par-five. Woodland could not be faulted for the manner in which he handled himself in his 69 to advance to 11-under.

Rose took only 23 putts, meaning that he has single-putted 35 times in the first 54 holes Credit: GETTY IMAGES

However, it is not just the world 25 Rose has to worry about but some of golf's heavyweights as well. After a bogeyless 68, Brooks Koepka is in a tie for third - alongside countryman Chez Reavie and South African Louis Oosthuizen - and clearly warming to the task of making history as the first player in more than 100 years to win three US Opens in a row. 

“I feel as confident as ever right now,” the world No 1 said. “It’s probably the best ball-striking week I've had. Pebble's greens are so small, but I think I only missed one of them [in regulation] today. If I can just make a few putts, I feel I could be right there.”

Add Rory McIlroy’s presence on six-under into the mix - as well as that of Matt Kuchar on five-under - then this could be a specular finale. Certainly McIlroy thinks so, as he targets his first major win in almost  five years. “This is a wonderful opportunity for me to go out there and try to add to my tally,” McIlroy said after a 70 that could have been at least a few shots better. “I definitely think I can shoot 65 or 66 on this golf course. That’s probably what it is going to take.”

Graeme McDowell, who won the US Open when it was last here nine years ago, spelled out the challenge facing Woodland, who shares the same coach in the Yorkshireman Pete Cowen. “It's a lonely place out there, and this course is a little bit of a sleeping giant,” McDowell said. “A few loose shots and you can be in scramble mode out there. But Gary’s s been there a few times. He's won a few events. He's a big boy. I'm sure he can handle himself.”

On four-under, McDowell is not without his own chances, as signified by the fist-pump which greeted his 35-footer for eagle on the 18th.  Two other Englishmen in Danny Willett and Matt Wallace are on the same mark. Willett shot a 67 - his first under par round at a US Open after 15 previous attempts - and that was the low score of the day. Wallace, meanwhile also made a three up the par-five last to fire a 71.

Woods shot 71 to remain on level par as the leaders remain out of reach Credit: GETTY IMAGES

But Tiger Woods will almost certainly not be winning his 15th major. The world No 5 showed his customary courage and belligerence to shoot a third-round 71 to remain at level par, but he surely required something more to establish himself a realistic final-round contender. Of course, Woods could not bring himself to admit as much. 

“I got off to a crap start, two-under through three, and those are the easier holes,” he said. “And I had to try to fight back and claw out a round today, which I was able to do.  I still gave myself a chance for tomorrow, which is positive.”

Woods caused consternation by sporting KT Tape - which is purported to provide support and relieve pain - on his neck. In March, he decided not to play in the Arnold Palmer Invitational because of neck pain. But after this round, he revealed that was nothing out of the ordinary for a 43-year-old who has undergone four back surgeries. 

“When it's cold like this everything is achy - it’s just part of the deal,” Woods said. “It's all the same. It's been like that for years. The forces have to go somewhere. And if they're not in the lower back, they're in the neck, and if not, they're in the mid-back and if not they go to the knee…. Let me put it this way, I feel every shot I hit. I think that's always going to be the case from here going forward.”