Matthieu Pavon leads US Open after ‘absolute mental torture’ for Shane Lowry

France’s Matthieu Pavon held a slender lead midway through the third round of the US Open as Shane Lowry’s prediction of the winning score looked like being surprisingly wide of the mark.

Lowry thought level par would have a great chance to win after experiencing “absolute mental torture” at Pinehurst, the former Open champion carding three birdies and three bogeys in a round of 70.

With the course getting firmer and faster and temperatures climbing above 90 degrees, Lowry felt scores would also rise over the weekend, but Pavon and the chasing pack had other ideas.

Birdies on the first, fifth and seventh took Pavon to the turn in 32 and at six under par he was a shot clear of overnight leader Ludvig Aberg, Bryson DeChambeau and Tony Finau, with Rory McIlroy another stroke back.

Shane Lowry watches his tee shot in the US Open
Shane Lowry described his third round of the US Open as “mental torture” (George Walker IV/AP)

McIlroy’s Ryder Cup team-mate Tyrrell Hatton and American Patrick Cantlay were three off the lead and a total of nine players remained under par, while Collin Morikawa had set the early target on level par after a superb 66.

Speaking after his round, Lowry said: “It’s torture out there, honestly it’s absolute mental torture. That’s the best level par I’ve ever shot in my life.

“Every single shot you have, even when you hit a good shot the putts you have, it’s brutally difficult.

“You’re standing in the middle of the fairway on par fours with an eight iron in hand and you’re like ‘Right, where will I miss this’ instead of thinking where will I hit it. It’s not much craic out there to be honest.

“It’s obviously firmer than it was last few days. It’s way windier. The wind’s in a different direction so some of the par fours are really long. You really just have to manage your way well around there and I did a great job today.”

Lowry began the day with a bogey on the first, but birdied the sixth and holed a bunker shot for another on the seventh.

“My first hole of the day I hit two lovely shots to the middle of the green and had 40 feet for birdie and I thought I could easily putt this into the bunker,” he added.

“So I left it 10 feet short and missed the next one. That’s kind of nearly what you have to do. You have to be very clever the way you go about your business.

“I’m very happy because I think the scoring is going to come way back this afternoon and I was thinking level par’s not going to be very far away this weekend.

“The leaders and the guys under par just need to get it into their heads that level par with nine holes to play on Sunday will have a chance.

“If you get on a bad run you just need to steady the ship and keep going, you don’t need to make birdies.”