The US Open could yet be set for a grandstand finale as it goes into a fifth day in New York State today.
It should be a two-horse race between the unheralded Ricky Barnes and Lucas Glover — but Phil Mickelson ended his third round on a tidal wave of emotion with a closing birdie to keep alive his dream of winning the title for the first time.
Graeme McDowell has put himself well into contention for his first top-10 at golf's Majors with a steadfast third-round 69 but the Portrush man still had his eyes on a bigger prize, even if he was sitting eight back on level par.
“I am just about in it,” he said.
“If the leaders come back to five or six-under-par then I have every chance.”
Rory McIlroy was four-over after yesterday's 73 but was still in fighting form, saying: “I probably need a 66 to finish in the top 10 so hopefully I can shoot a low last round and move up.”
The Bethpage galleries took Mickelson to their heart seven years ago, but the sympathy and encouragement he has received on The Black Course over the past four days makes 2002 look tame.
He needed and appreciated the support yesterday during an extraordinary round which included six birdies, four bogeys and even a double at six, where Mickelson's approach came to rest in an impossible lie tight under the lip of a greenside bunker.
Barnes, who played the first 36 holes in a record eight-under, then became only the fourth man in history to go double-figures below par at the US Open when he strode to 11-under with a birdie at the par-five fourth.
The 27-year-old qualifier, who has finished no higher than 47th on the PGA Tour this year, would then shoot his only bogey in 32 holes at the demanding 11th.
It was only the third round, but Tiger Woods still appeared in a blood red shirt yesterday morning as he tried to eat into the 11 strokes which separated him from the top of the leaderboard after 36 holes.
Yet the champion's prospects of defending the title he won in such staggering fashion at Torrey Pines last year foundered as he
struggled for precision with his approach play and groped for his usual touch on the greens, even if he shot 68.
Barnes is playing his first full year on the PGA Tour in his seventh year as a professional and was going the right way about emulating 2003 Open champion Ben Curtis in making his maiden professional victory at a major.
Starting the day at eight under with a one-shot lead over Glover, moved into a three-shot lead after six holes thanks to a birdie at the second and a long-range eagle putt at the fourth.
The eagle got the 28-year-old to 11 under par, the first man to move into double digits at the US Open since Jim Furyk in the third round at Olympia Fields en route to his victory in 2003.
Despite a bogey at the seventh, Barnes' lead stretched to six shots at the eighth as both Glover and Mike Weir in third place, slipped to four under.
Yet Barnes unravelled a little after turning for home, bogeying the long and difficult par-fours at 10 and 12 as Glover birdied the 10th and 11th.
Barnes rebounded with a birdie at 13th but his three-shot lead over the field at nine under after 14 holes gave his rivals some hope they could reel him in over the final round, which was set to start late on Sunday.
Weir was at two under playing the 16th in a tie for third with David Duval, who birdied the 16th to also join Hunter Mahan, with a 68.
England's Ross Fisher had got to three under after four holes but he stayed in touch with the leaders at two under.
Two-time US Open winner Retief Goosen shot a second 68 in a row and Bubba Watson carded a 67 for both to get to one under, with Sweden's Peter Hanson and Americans Sean O'Hair and Todd Hamilton.
Westwood had shot a second-round 66 to get to two under at the halfway stage and two more birdies in his third round had him at four under after four holes.
Five bogeys and a double bogey around a birdie at the eighth saw Westwood fall back to two over after a 74.
More heavy rain had fallen at Bethpage Black overnight, saturating an already drenched course which had flooded on many greens and fairways on Saturday evening, bringing play to a premature end with the third round only just having got under way.
That led tournament officials from the United States Golf Association to suspend play for the day and with the storms continuing through the night, and a further three-quarters of an inch of rain landing on the Black course, officials decided to delay play until noon yesterday, pushing the closing fourth-round play back into a fifth day for the first time in 26 years.