OAKMONT, Pa. (AP) Aaron Baddeley dug his feet in the sand and trained his eyes on a golf ball buried in thick grass at the base of a bunker. He was staring at a third straight bogey Saturday at the U.S. Open, each one dropping him closer to Tiger Woods.
He choked up on the wedge, his fingers almost touching the steel shaft, and somehow punched it onto the fringe of the 17th green to escape with par and pass his first big test at Oakmont.
"That was key," Baddeley said. "That really felt like a birdie, to be honest."
Next comes the final exam.
Baddeley stood upright and clenched his fist when a 12-foot putt for birdie dropped on the final hole for an even-par 70, knowing that every shot counts at the U.S. Open, especially now.
It gave him a two-shot lead over Woods, who was practically perfect from tee to green in his round of 69, one of only two rounds under par even though Oakmont's fearsome greens showed a softer side.
Despite a bogey on the final hole, the only time in the third round Woods missed the green, the world's No. 1 player was in the final group of a major championship for the second time this year.
Woods will be going for his 13th major. Baddeley is playing in his 11th.
"I'm going to deal with some emotions because I've never been in this position before," said Baddeley, who was at 2-over 212. "But I play golf. I've worked my whole life to be in this position, so I'm going to embrace it."
He'll have his hands full if Woods brings the same game on Sunday.
Woods gave himself a birdie putt on every hole until he drove into a bunker on the 18th hole and cringed when his 15-foot par putt tickled the edge of the cup, a far too common sight for him on this day. He took 35 putts and still had one of only two subpar rounds at an Oakmont course that was only slightly more forgiving.
"I hit a lot of good putts that grazed the edge, but hey, I put myself right there in the tournament," Woods said. "Right in the mix."
Woods has never won a major when trailing going into the final round. He played in the last group at the Masters with Stuart Appleby and briefly had the lead Sunday, but wound up in a tie for second.
But he has experience on his side.
Baddeley has made the cut in only three of his previous 10 majors, his best finish a tie for 52nd at the Masters this year. The 26-year-old Australian will play with Woods for the third time in a major, but the first time on a Sunday.
"I've been there before, and I know what it takes," Woods said.
Paul Casey shot a 72 and was at 5-over 215 with Stephen Ames (73), Justin Rose (73) and Bubba Watson (75), who made a triple bogey from the left side of the ninth green but steadied himself with pars and a lone bogey the rest of the way.
The other subpar round belonged to Steve Stricker, who holed out from 74 yards for birdie on the 18th hole for a 68 to give himself a chance at 6-over 216, tied with former champion Jim Furyk (70) and 36-hole leader Angel Cabrera (76), who slowly lost ground until he chopped his way to a bogey-bogey finish.
Baddeley has been building for a moment like this, even if some thought it would come much sooner.