Erin (United States) (AFP)
Powerful winds battered the US Open on Sunday as a wide-open final round got under way with a cluster of inexperienced contenders aiming to claim their first major title.
After three days of benign conditions which have led to a feast of low-scoring, Mother Nature struck back with a vengeance on Sunday, lashing the challenging course with strong gusts.
The dramatically different playing conditions were already being reflected on the scoreboard, with a slew of players wildly over par.
China's Li Haotong was 10-over-par for the day through 14 holes while more experienced contenders such as England's Lee Westwood were also struggling. Westwood was four over after only seven holes.
Unheralded American Brian Harman leads the field by one shot on 12 under, and will tee off in the final pairing alongside Justin Thomas at 2:54pm local time (1954 GMT).
Thomas exploited soggy fairways and soft greens on Saturday to shoot a dazzling nine-under-par 63, the lowest to-par score for 18 holes in US Open history.
Harman, who had missed the cut in his four previous major appearances, also thrived with a five-under-par 67.
However with the strong winds ripping across the exposed, tree-less par-72 layout on Sunday, the chances of another low-scoring day looked remote.
If the winds hold, it could well mean that the final afternoon leaderboard battle comes down to who masters the conditions.
Around a dozen or players are realistically in contention on a crowded leaderboard.
Below Harman on 12 under, three players are tied on 11 under -- Thomas, Brooks Koepka and England's Tommy Fleetwood.
World number nine Rickie Fowler, runner-up in the US Open in 2014, is two off the lead on 10 under.
South Korea's Kim Si-Woo is one back on nine under, just ahead of Patrick Reed, Charley Hoffman and Russell Henley on eight under.
Four other players are tied for 10th on seven under.
Fowler, 28, resurrected his hopes of a maiden major title on Saturday with a four-under-par 68.
Although he trails by two, Fowler is optimistic that he can finally land a major after a series of near-misses.
"I'm looking forward to my shot at it, I know it's not going to be an easy day, for sure," Fowler said.
"I've been there a handful of times and had some good finishes. But I'm looking forward to getting the job done."
Unusually, the finale will not feature any of the world's top three players.
World number one Dustin Johnson, second-ranked Rory McIlroy and Australian world number three Jason Day all missed the cut.
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