Rory McIlroy believes he can challenge for the U.S. Open title on Sunday, saying a third-round 68 has given him "a pretty good shot".

The Northern Irishman began on Thursday with a three-under 67 but turned his numbers around in the second round when a 76 looked to have scuppered his hopes.

On Saturday, moving day at Winged Foot, McIlroy had three birdies and just one dropped shot in the kind of solid performance he would sign for again in the final round.

Four-time major winner McIlroy, who was 22 years old when he won the 2011 U.S. Open, was back on the leaderboard.

On a course where American Matthew Wolff, just 21, was setting the pace, McIlroy was sensing the rekindling of a real opportunity this week.

"Overall 68 out there is a really good score," he said. "I don't know where that's going to leave me at the end of the day, but I'm feeling pretty good that I've got a good chance going into [Sunday]."

At one over par, McIlroy was watching the scoreboard to see where Wolff would finish the day.

A startling 30 on the front nine took Wolff to five under par for the tournament at one stage.

"No matter where I am at the end of the day, I feel like I've got a pretty good shot," McIlroy said.

"You know, it doesn't take much around here ... someone gets off to a decent start, maybe one or two under through five and then the leader goes the other way, one or two over through five, and all of a sudden you're right in the thick of things."

Asked what conditions he would want on Sunday, McIlroy said: "It's sort of a double-edged sword, right, because you would think that you'd want tougher conditions because it'll make it more difficult for the guys in front of you, but it also makes it more difficult for yourself.

"I think looking at the forecast, the conditions are going to be pretty similar to today, which is fine. If I go out there tomorrow and shoot another 68, I won't be too far away."

He was full of admiration for Wolff's front nine, describing his scoring as "awesome golf".

Patrick Reed said he is feeling confident after claiming the U.S. Open lead as the former Masters champion eyes a second major crown.

Reed tops the leaderboard by one stroke at the halfway stage following his even-par-70 in the second round at the unforgiving Winged Foot Golf Club on Friday.

Winner of the 2018 Masters, Reed was a shot off the pace after round one but used five birdies to replace Justin Thomas atop the standings in tricky conditions in New York.

After improving to four under through 36 holes, American golfer Reed told reporters: "I feel good. I feel ready to go out and put myself in position hopefully tomorrow [Saturday] to have a chance late on Sunday.

"But I think that's the biggest thing is I feel like the game is where it needs to be. I feel good.

"I just need to tighten a few things up here or there, but the short game is sharp, and when I play around a place like this, that's what you need."

Winged Foot proved troublesome again on another tough scoring day as 15-time major winner Tiger Woods, defending champion Gary Woodland, former world number one Jordan Spieth and Phil Mickelson were among the masses to miss the cut.

But Reed managed to tame the course following his opening-round 66, a mixed day featuring five birdies and as many bogeys as he ended the round ahead of surging countryman Bryson DeChambeau.

"Any time you play in the U.S. Open you know that you're going to have one of those days that things just aren't quite going your way," Reed said. "I felt like I left a decent amount of shots out there, felt like I was a little loose with some shots off the tee and also irons.

"To be able to feel like that and come out and shoot even par around a day like today, it's definitely a positive and makes you feel good going into the weekend."

Reed will play alongside rival DeChambeau on Saturday as the pair chase silverware and he added: "It's going to be good.

"I look forward to playing with him. I always enjoy playing with Bryson. It's kind of one of those things that we go out there, and I think around here it's not really as much on who you're playing with because you're out there attacking the golf course. This golf course you have to think about every little thing off of tee shots, iron shots, putts, everything.

"You don't really hang out with the guys you're playing with as much because you're too busy trying to figure out where you're trying to play this golf course and kind of put it together like a puzzle.

"I think that's the thing about the U.S. Open, there's not as much talking going on at the U.S. Open as there is other golf tournaments because it's a premium on every single golf shot. You let up once and you're going to make a mess of the golf course."

Tiger Woods said he will take a break before preparing to defend his Zozo Championship and Masters titles after missing the cut at the U.S. Open on Friday.

Woods endured a disappointing and frustrating outing in New York, where the 15-time major champion failed to qualify for the weekend following a seven-over-par 77.

A three-time U.S. Open champion, Woods finished with a score of 10 over at the unforgiving Winged Foot Golf Club, having holed two double bogeys and five bogeys on day two, while Patrick Reed tops the leaderboard at four under.

"It's frustrating that I'm not going to be here for the weekend," Woods said as defending champion Gary Woodland, Jordan Spieth and Phil Mickelson also missed the cut.

"It feels like the way the golf course is changing, anybody who makes the cut has the opportunity to win this championship. I didn't get myself that opportunity.

"It's never easy to not be playing for the championship on the weekend. The whole goal of entering an event is to win, and when I don't give myself that opportunity over the weekend, it doesn't feel good."

"Physically it was frustrating that I didn't drive the ball as well as I needed to," added the 44-year-old. "Iron play was pretty much the way it has been. It's been good, and I finally putted well. But on this golf course it's imperative that you hit fairways, and I did not do that."

Woods is now eyeing some recovery ahead of the Zozo Championship and rescheduled Masters.

The American superstar secured a record-equalling 82nd PGA Tour crown after winning last year's Zozo Championship, and he will have the chance to move clear in the history books when the tournament starts on October 22.

Woods will then try to claim back-to-back Masters trophies at Augusta, beginning November 12.

"Probably I'm not going to be swinging a club for a little bit," he said. "Well, until Tuesday. And then after that, take a little break. And then refocus and get back after it.

"There's still one more major to go, and my title defence at Sherwood. We have a couple big, big things ahead of us."

Patrick Reed is the man to beat at the halfway mark of the U.S. Open after earning a one-shot lead in his pursuit of a second major title, while Tiger Woods was among the big names who failed to qualify for the weekend.

Reed – the 2018 Masters champion – carded an even-par-70 to move top of the leaderboard through two rounds in tricky conditions at Winged Foot Golf Club on Friday.

American golfer Reed was a stroke behind overnight leader and countryman Justin Thomas heading into day two in New York, where the rescheduled major is taking place behind closed doors amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Reed, who made a memorable hole-in-one in the opening round, replaced Thomas atop the standings thanks to a mixed day, which included five birdies and as many bogeys.

A controversial figure on the PGA Tour following accusations of cheating during last year's Hero World Challenge, Reed started on the back nine and birdied his second hole but had three bogeys in a five-hole stretch – that also included another birdie – approaching the turn.

Reed tallied two birdies and two bogeys before closing his round with a birdie at the last to end the day four under and ahead of surging American Bryson DeChambeau (68), who improved 12 positions.

Rafa Cabrera Bello (70), Harris English (70) and former world number one Thomas (73) are tied for third and two shots off the pace heading into Saturday's third round.

Thomas set the record for the lowest score posted in a U.S. Open at Winged Foot with a first-round 65, but he was unable to repeat the feat on a tough day.

Jon Rahm (72) closed the round one over through 36 holes, while world number one and FedEx Cup champion Dustin Johnson (70) is two strokes worse off following back-to-back rounds in the 70s.

Johnson – the 2016 winner – is three over alongside four-time major champion Rory McIlroy, who endured a forgettable round following a six-over-par 76.

In contention after round one, Northern Irish star McIlroy – seeking his first major trophy since 2014 – fell 17 positions on the back of a double bogey, seven bogeys and just three birdies.

As for Woods, he missed the cut and the 15-time major winner was not alone as defending champion Gary Woodland (74), Jordan Spieth (81) and Phil Mickelson (74) also fell short of the six-over line.

Three-time U.S. Open champion Woods finished with a score of 10 over after shooting a second-round 77, which included two double bogeys and five bogeys.

It was a horrible day for 2015 champion Spieth, whose woes continued as he bowed out at 14 over after going through the second round without a birdie, instead holding a double bogey and nine bogeys.

Bryson DeChambeau's confidence is at an "all-time high" after an excellent two-under 68 put him in contention following his second round at the U.S. Open.

Players and experts alike commented about how forgiving the notoriously brutal Winged Foot West Course was on day one, but the same could not be said on Friday.

The number of players finishing the day under par fell drastically, with Thomas Pieters and Matthew Wolff – both of whom were just a shot off the lead after the opening round – among those to slip, with each going four over par this time around to drop back to level.

But long-hitting DeChambeau, who carded 69 on Thursday, put himself right into the mixer with an impressive round for the clubhouse lead.

"I feel great. Confidence is at an all-time high right now," he told reporters. "I'm driving it well, iron play is fantastic, wedging is getting better each and every day, and I'm putting it like I know I can. So very happy.

"I want it to play as hard as possible. I feel like there's so many holes out here that I can take advantage of that some people can't.

"Now, that doesn't mean that I'm going to win or anything, you've still got to execute, you've still got to hit the driver straight.

"If I'm hitting the driver far but all over the place, you can't make birdies from the rough. It's very difficult to, so I still have to work on hitting it straight while hitting it far. And that's a unique combo that I'm going to strive for for the rest of my life."

With regards to his improvement, DeChambeau put it partly down to his approach play with the wedges, with calibration adjustments paying off.

"My wedges yesterday weren't that good," he said. "I was flying them too far and I wanted to know what the problem was and we figured out what the problem was.

"It just was going farther than I thought it was. We didn't practise them as well as I should have leading up to this tournament, but we made that adjustment, and it worked out beautifully for me today."

World number one Dustin Johnson appeared to be in trouble after his opening-round 73, but on Friday he went around at even par to remain on three over for the tournament, and given how aggressive the course felt on Friday, the 2016 champion believes his chances are still alive.

"I think still on this golf course, with the conditions that we're supposed to have the next couple days, I don't feel like I'm out of it," Johnson said. "I'm going to have to play really well, but I like where I'm at. I think obviously two solid rounds and [I'm] right back in the mix.

"So hopefully. It was a little better today, get a little better tomorrow and then even better on Sunday, and I'll be right there."

World number one Dustin Johnson is looking to bounce back after going three over to start the U.S. Open on Thursday.

All eyes are on red-hot Johnson after his maiden FedEx Cup title and PGA Tour Player of the Year Award, but the American star shot a 73 to open his bid for a second U.S. Open crown.

Played at the unforgiving Winged Foot Golf Club, Johnson holed a double bogey, three bogeys and two birdies to be eight shots adrift of leader Justin Thomas in New York.

Tied for 71st alongside the likes of 15-time major champion Tiger Woods, former world number one Jordan Spieth and Justin Rose, an upbeat Johnson said: "It wasn't too bad.

"Just didn't drive it in the fairway enough. Honestly, I felt like I rolled it really well, but I just didn't make any putts.

"And I think that was the difference of shooting a couple under, and I shot a few over.

"But hit a lot of good putts. Going to go work on the irons a little bit. Hit one real bad iron shot on seven, but other than that, felt like I managed the course pretty well and played decent. I just didn't make any putts. I hit good ones.

"Get a little better with the reads tomorrow [Friday] and maybe drive it in the fairway a little bit more, but other than that, I feel pretty good. I didn't play great, didn't make any putts. So obviously tomorrow if I shoot a few under, I'll get back in the golf tournament."

Justin Thomas set the early pace at the U.S. Open, where a record-breaking five-under-par 65 gave the former world number one a one-shot lead following the opening round.

Three straight birdies from the ninth and another at the last helped take Thomas to the top of the leaderboard with the lowest score recorded in a U.S. Open at Winged Foot, surpassing the previous low of 66.

Thomas – the 2017 US PGA Championship winner – ended the first day ahead of Patrick Reed, Thomas Pieters and Matthew Wolff in New York on Thursday.

A course usually renowned for its thick rough and brutal greens, Winged Foot's West Course was surprisingly forgiving for the start of the rescheduled 120th U.S. Open amid the coronavirus pandemic, hence some of the low scores and the fact Thomas reached 14 of the 18 greens in regulation.

Former Masters champion Reed will hope to remain in contention heading into the weekend after ending day one just a shot back – the American's 66 helped by a hole-in-one at the par-three seventh, the ball taking just one bounce before sinking.

Reed was not the only player to ace the seventh, however. Will Zalatoris repeated the feat later, with Wolff also coming agonisingly close in a remarkable series of events.

Despite the disappointment of missing out on that ace, Wolff impressed and dragged himself into the frame with a run of three successive birdies after beginning the back nine with a bogey.

Pieters is right there on Thomas' tail as well thanks to his round of 66 – a best ever opening score in a major for the Belgian, who closed out the day with a birdie that moved him above Rory McIlroy on three under.

Four-time major champion and 2011 U.S. Open winner McIlroy, who has not added to his haul of majors since 2014, had four birdies and a solitary bogey in a promising start, while Jon Rahm opened with a 69.

But it was a day to forget for some of the big hitters, who will now require strong second rounds.

Defending champion Gary Woodland is at four over, a shot worse off than world number one and FedEx Cup winner Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth and Tiger Woods, with the latter – a three-time U.S. Open champion – finishing with a bogey and double bogey on the last two holes.

After a front-nine one-under-par 34, American golfer Woodland played the back nine in five over for an opening-round 74.

It was a miserable start for five-time major champion Phil Mickelson, who will enter the second round nine over – while US PGA Championship winner Collin Morikawa was three shots better off.

Phil Mickelson and Colin Montgomerie would have a particularly thrilling and eerily similar tale to recount around a campfire of greats recalling their golfing horror stories.

The year was 2006, the scene was Winged Foot, the prize on offer was the U.S. Open on Father's Day. What unfolded was quite extraordinary. 

Fast forward 14 years and Winged Foot is, belatedly, preparing to once more host the major tournament, where the game's biggest names would do well to listen to Mickelson and Montgomerie's cautionary tale.

In total, there were 15 lead changes among five players on a dramatic final day. So, roast your marshmallows and listen carefully as we shine a torchlight on how Geoff Ogilvy became a major champion at the expense of more recognisable names…

Ogilvy's rollercoaster round

Starting the day just one stroke back of co-leaders Mickelson and the unheralded Kenneth Ferrie, Ogilvy found himself two clear through seven holes after making back-to-back gains at the fifth and sixth. But the Australian was not spared the drama and a run of four bogeys in the space of seven holes between the eighth and 15th saw him drop the lead. A solid finish, which yielded four straight pars, would prove to be crucial though…

Monty's mishap leaves door open for Phil

Considered one of the best players to never win a major tournament, Montgomerie passed up a golden opportunity at Winged Foot. The Scotsman had stayed in contention throughout a brutal final day and drained a mammoth 75-foot putt for birdie at his penultimate hole to take a share of the lead. A par would have been enough for the clubhouse lead, while a bogey would have at least meant a Monday play-off. Montgomerie drilled his tee shot at the last down the fairway and had a little over 170 yards to the pin. After a lengthy deliberation, he selected a seven iron but the approach missed the green short and the resulting chip out of the rough left a long downhill putt. He then agonisingly three-putted to see his hopes go up in smoke.

Mickelson makes an almighty mess of it

You could easily forgive Mickelson for thinking that when it comes to the U.S. Open there is a curse on his name. A six-time runner-up at the only major he has never won, including three prior to arguably his most heart-breaking experience at Winged Foot. Having won the previous two majors at the US PGA Championship and the Masters, few would have backed against him when a par at the last would have been enough to lift the trophy. Mickelson had been scratchy in getting to that point, with five bogeys negating three birdies. But still…surely, surely at least he would be back at Winged Foot on Monday. What followed was a comedy of errors. A drive off the tee was so errant it whistled through the trees towards a hospitality talent. His second struck a tree and advanced him just 25 yards, while his third plugged deeply into a green-side bunker. Out of the sand but with no spin, Mickelson's ball rolled off the other side of the green. A chip for bogey went six feet past the hole, leaving Ogilvy to celebrate.

The other hard luck stories…

Amid the drama, a couple of other near misses are often forgotten. Jim Furyk needed only a par at the last for what would have been enough for a play-off, only to miss a five-footer for par after recovering from the bunker. Padraig Harrington had crept into the mix having played 15 holes at two under without making a bogey. But the Irishman, now a three-time major winner, lost his cool at a crucial juncture, bogeying the final three to finish two back.

Rory McIlroy hopes to end his extended wait for a major title at the U.S. Open, but the former world number one is not placing too much pressure on himself as he puts things into perspective after becoming a father.

McIlroy is off diaper duty for this week's rescheduled U.S. Open, which gets underway at Winged Foot Golf Club in New York amid the coronavirus pandemic on Thursday.

The 31-year-old Northern Irish star has not added to his four major trophies since 2014, when he claimed both the US PGA Championship and Open Championship.

McIlroy finished tied for 33rd at this year's PGA Championship, while he was unable to defend his Tour Championship and FedEx Cup titles last week as Dustin Johnson reigned supreme.

"Yeah, for sure. I think if anything, if you've looked at my major championship performances over the last few years, I've just gotten off to slow starts," McIlroy told reporters when asked if he had analysed his major struggles.

"I probably just put a little too much pressure on myself going into tournaments. And from there, shooting a bad score on the first day and putting yourself under even more pressure from there to just make it to the weekend, and then to try to play catch-up. I think that's been the big thing.

"When I start tournaments well, I seem to stay up there. I started Pebble last year with a nice score and stayed up there for the most part. I didn't quite finish the week the way I wanted to. But that's been the big thing for me. If I can start and put a good solid round together on a Thursday, I'm usually right there."

While McIlroy is eyeing major glory, defeat would sit slightly easier with the 2011 U.S. Open champion following the birth of his first child.

Asked if fatherhood had relaxed him, McIlroy said: "I think so. I think it just puts things in perspective a little bit. Not that this it matters to me and I care about it very much, but at the same time, it makes the hard days a little easier to get over, right. And I'm not saying that I want to have hard days to get over, but yeah, you're a little more relaxed.

"When I say it's not the be-all and end-all, it's a major championship and I've grown up my whole life dreaming of winning these tournaments, and that's not going to change, but if it doesn't quite happen, I can live with that and go home and be very happy and leave what's happened at the golf course at the golf course.

"I think that's maybe something that I haven't done so well in the past is I haven't left my job at the office basically, I've brought it home with me, and I've let it affect my mood and how I am. I think having that little bit more perspective definitely helps."

McIlroy added: "I actually changed the first two diapers, so I'm very proud of that. But yeah, I've got my hands dirty; put it that way."

South African George Coetzee landed his fifth European Tour title after fending off a Tommy Fleetwood charge at the Portugal Masters.

Beginning the final round with a one-shot advantage, the 34-year-old from Pretoria held his nerve impressively as a five-under-par 66 saw him grab a first win on the tour since the 2018 Tshwane Open.

Coetzee was a winner last week on South Africa's Sunshine Tour, meaning he arrived at Vilamoura in the mood to challenge.

It was a third 66 of the week that saw him over the winning line on 16 under, with Coetzee finishing two ahead of England's Laurie Canter, who holed a 30-foot par putt at the last, and three clear of the back-to-form Fleetwood.

Although Fleetwood's closing 64 was not bettered on the final day, the former Open and U.S. Open runner-up was coming from too far back.

He vaulted nine places up the leaderboard to take a share of third place with Sweden's Joakim Lagergren, but it was Coetzee's day.

Curiously, all four of Coetzee's previous European Tour wins came outside Europe – three in South Africa and one in Mauritius.

He was thrilled to produce his best drive of the day at the testing final hole, saying: "I'm ecstatic. It's the work me and my psychologist have been doing, and my coach. It's just nice to see it pay off."

Fleetwood now feels in better shape to mount a challenge at the upcoming U.S. Open, which begins on Thursday at Winged Foot, New York.

The 29-year-old played several events on the PGA Tour after its lockdown lifted, without getting into contention.

He was heading to the United States via London after finishing his round in Portugal, and said: "I'm very, very happy with how I played. It's nice to put yourself in contention."

Fleetwood told the European Tour official website: "I was nowhere near for a few weeks in America. I did some really good practice and wanted to play this week."

He had one gripe though, and it was with his putting. "Inside six feet I was poor this week but that's how it goes."

George Coetzee will take a one-shot lead over Julien Guerrier into the final day of the Portugal Masters after carding 66 on Saturday.

The South African started the day eight shots behind overnight leader Guerrier, whose five-stroke advantage at the top of the leaderboard evaporated in a birdie-free round of 75.

Masahiro Kawamura is in a tie with Guerrier for second after a superb third round of 65, which included eight birdies, took him to 10 under for the tournament.

It is Coetzee who leads the way in the Algarve, however, a fine eagle at the par-five 17th helping him to move 11 under par.

Coetzee, a four-time winner on the European Tour, was even a little disappointed he did not sink his approach for an albatross, saying: "It would have been nice.

"I kind of felt like I was in a good space today and I didn't really get going on the front nine, missed a couple of good opportunities on the back nine with the first couple of holes, but then when I started finally making them it was kind of smooth sailing from there.

"It was a bit of a grind but you just have to kind of hold on tight until you get a good opportunity."

Guerrier seemed to be in a battle with himself, clawing back a few par finishes after bogeying the fourth and producing a solid back nine having dropped another shot at the ninth.

However, back-to-back bogeys at the 15th and 16th saw the lead slip from his grasp, although pars on the final two holes kept him firmly in the hunt.

Julien Guerrier carded a five-under-par 66 on day two of the Portugal Masters to open up a commanding five-shot lead at the halfway point in Vilamoura.

The 35-year-old is hoping to claim his first win on the European Tour and went into Friday's play a shot off overnight leader Liam Johnston after a bogey-free opening round of 62.

But as Johnston went backwards, Frenchman Guerrier produced another high-quality round, albeit not entirely flawless.

He made his first bogey of the tournament on the opening hole of the second round but then recovered with three birdies in the next four holes.

After taking over at the top of the leaderboard, Guerrier bounced back from another bogey on the sixth with pars on the next three holes at the Dom Pedro Victoria Course.

And he further increased his lead on the back nine thanks to four more birdies.

"I'm feeling great. It looks easy but it's not," Guerrier, who endured an injury-plagued 2019 season, said after reaching 14-under 128 through 36 holes.

"After shooting nine under it's always tough to make a good score so I'm really happy to have played good. I just try to hit it on the fairways and hit the greens after.

"I'm feeling good on the greens so I think it's a bit easier when you are confident around the green. In Valderrama it was really tough so that was more about fighting spirit.

"After the injury you try to get a good level and find your mark on your game under pressure so it's perfect for me to play on the weekend."

Sihwan Kim matched world number 670 Guerrier's five under for the day to move up to second place on nine under par after a hectic back nine that included three bogeys and six birdies.

Former leader Johnstone sat tied with eight others in third, the Scotsman failing to build on a sensational first round of 61 as he posted a three-over-par 74.

Antoine Rozner, Wilco Nienaber, Scott Vincent, Adrien Saddier, Adrian Meronk, Martin Simonsen, Matthew Jordan and Marcus Armitage were also seven shots off the pace.

Elsewhere, Jonathan Caldwell and Mathieu Fenasse produced holes-in-one, on the sixth and eighth respectively.

Pre-tournament favourite Tommy Fleetwood was in trouble until three birdies on the back nine meant he avoided a missed cut, yet after a level-par 71 he sat 11 shots behind Guerrier.

Liam Johnston was in sensational form on day one of the Portugal Masters, carding a 10-under-par 61 to take a one-shot lead into Friday.

The 27-year-old Scot was in devastating form at the Dom Pedro Victoria Golf Course in Vilamoura, going round bogey-free and making 10 birdies.

He might have done even better had his eagle-putt on the par-five 17th found the hole, but, as it was, he had to settle for a 10th birdie of the day.

Johnston reached the turn in just 31, seemingly putting himself in contention to match Oliver Fisher's historic 59 at the same course two years ago.

Unfortunately he could not quite reach that mark, though his back nine was even smoother as he came home in 30.

"With the rough out there, it's nice to keep the bogeys off the card," Johnston said afterwards. "I saved well when I needed to and I holed a lot of good putts out there. I'm delighted with the 10 birdies.

"I told my coach back home that I was swinging it as good as I have. My game feels like it's really trending in the right direction, more importantly I'm in a really good place mentally.

"I didn't see a round like this coming but I feel like I was playing well."

Ordinarily he might have expected to have been in complete control at the top of the leaderboard after such a round, but Julien Guerrier made sure that was not the case.

The Frenchman, a late finisher on the day, is just a shot further back having also gone around without a single bogey.

Like Johnston, Guerrier is hoping to claim his first win on the European Tour and is well-placed for a challenge after a fine start.

Only two other players managed better than five-under for the day, with Laurie Canter – who had set the clubhouse lead – going round in 64 and Jonathan Caldwell carding 65.

John Catlin held off Martin Kaymer, who bogeyed the last, in a final-round tussle to claim a wire-to-wire victory at the Andalucia Masters and his maiden win on the European Tour.

It was a day of battle at Valderrama with Catlin not making a single birdie during his four-over-par 75.

The American made several fine saves down the stretch, though, and a par at the last was enough to finish the tournament at two over, one shot clear of two-time major winner Kaymer.

The lead exchanged several times on a day where strong winds again made for difficult scoring conditions but Kaymer negotiated the elements pretty well early doors – including sinking a fine 25-foot putt for par on the sixth.

A costly double bogey at the ninth when he had to hit a provisional after losing his ball off the tee proved costly as Catlin was able to open up a two-shot lead at the turn. 

In a see-saw battle, a bogey for Catlin and birdie for Kaymer at the 12th meant the German hit the front and another crucial moment at the 15th followed, in which the former drained a par putt and the latter dropped a shot to tie the scores.

But Catlin made par at the last when Kaymer could only bogey to bring an end to an intriguing fight.

Justin Harding had briefly been co-leading after making birdie at the 17th but an ugly double bogey at the last meant he finished in a tie for third with Antoine Rozner and Wil Besseling.

Two-time major winner Martin Kaymer climbed into contention to win his first event since 2014 as he moved two shots behind leader John Catlin at the Andalucia Masters.

Kaymer, who emerged victorious at the 2010 US PGA Championship and 2014 U.S. Open and helped Europe retain the Ryder Cup in between, has had a fallow few years, but finished in a tie for third at last week's UK Championship and has maintained his good form at Valderrama.

After back-to-back 72s, Kaymer carded a two-under-par 69 as he rolled in three birdies and dropped just one shot at the par-four seventh during Saturday's third round.

Catlin remains the man to beat, though his advantage would have been greater had he not finished the day with back-to-back bogies to sign for a 72, his worst score of the week so far.

The American, who was five shots clear at one stage, has never won on the European Tour, but has claimed four victories on the Asian Tour.

"It's very difficult to win, it doesn't matter what tour you're on," Catlin said in quotes published on the European Tour's website.

"Having that winning experience gives me a lot of confidence so I'm going to go out, give it my all and see where everything lands.  

"It's going to be a fun day. Martin's a very good player and I look forward to seeing what he does, but I wouldn't be in that group if I couldn't compete also so I'm looking forward to seeing what I can do too."

Apart from Catlin - who is two under through 54 holes - and Kaymer, everyone else is over par for the tournament.

Jamie Donaldson and Lorenzo Gagli - who had a hole-in-one at the 12th - are three adrift of the lead.

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