SAN DIEGO, Calif.: Renowned for being the toughest test on the golf calendar, the U.S. Open was proving to be an exception to the rule early in the third round on Saturday.
Birdies were relatively plentiful as play began in a light if freshening breeze under greyish skies amid mild temperatures that kept the sun from baking out the Torrey Pines greens.
As halfway leaders Richard Bland and Russell Henley prepared to tee off at five-under-par 137, Englishmen Paul Casey and Ian Poulter took advantage of their early tee times to post rounds of 67 and 68 respectively.
They both adjourned for lunch at even-par 213.
"We got mild wind, so because of that and a little bit of overcast today, the greens are drying out, but there's still (birdie) opportunities on this golf course," said European Ryder Cup stalwart Poulter.
"I felt, obviously, with a birdie-birdie start, there was a score out there.
"I made a few mistakes and gave a couple back to the field where I really should have taken advantage, but any time you can put yourself kind of in that position, three-under par is a good score."
While Poulter and Casey thrived, Phil Mickelson's hopes of winning the one major that has eluded him were all but dashed as he struggled to string together a series of good shots.
Two over on the day after 13 holes, and four over for the tournament, the six-time Open runner-up needed a hot finish to have any chance of being within striking distance going into Sunday's final round.
Other big guns were doing enough to hang within touching distance of the leaders.
Brooks Koepka (through six holes) and Bryson DeChambeau (three holes) trailed by four shots, while Rory McIlroy (eight holes) and Dustin Johnson (11 holes) were five back.
(Reporting by Andrew Both; Editing by Ken Ferris)