UNIVERSITY PLACE, Washington (Reuters) - Playing partners Dustin Johnson and Branden Grace followed similar routes of highs and lows to reach the same destination on Saturday, ending the third round in a four-way tie for the lead.
Big-hitting American Johnson used his power off the tee and a deft touch around the greens to rack up five birdies, along with three bogeys and a double at the par-four 13th, to card a level-par 70 in difficult scoring conditions at Chambers Bay.
South African Grace, a six-times winner on the European Tour whose game has long been praised by his compatriot Ernie Els, offset three birdies with three bogeys for a matching 70 to join Johnson, Jordan Spieth and Jason Day at four-under 206.
"I actually played some great golf and the concentration slipped a little bit around the turn," Grace told reporters. "I'm still happy. I'm still in a good position, I'm grinding away. It was a good day out there, but it was tough.
"Tomorrow is just going to be another tough grind. The course really firmed up towards the end and played really bouncy and tricky."
Johnson, like Grace bidding for his first major title, was also happy with his form on a challenging afternoon on a firming course.
"I played really well today," said the 30-year-old American. "Obviously the setup was very difficult, the golf course is playing really firm and fast. It's just tough out there.
"A few three-putts, other than that, I felt like I putted it well. I just missed a few short ones. I made some putts, too. But really could have been a good day today."
Johnson, a nine-times winner on the PGA Tour, is well aware of the challenge facing him in the final round of a major on a difficult layout where danger lurks at every corner.
In the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, the American squandered a three-shot lead on the last day, slumping to an 82.
That same year in the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits, he was slapped a two-stroke penalty for grounding his club in a waste bunker on the 18th hole to miss out on a playoff for the trophy.
"I've been in the situation a few times so I know how to handle myself," said Johnson. "I know what it takes to get it done ... just need to go out there and focus one shot at a time. And we'll see what happens."
(Editing by Steve Keating)