PINEHURST, N.C. – As Bryson DeChambeau walked up the 18th fairway Saturday, he looked to his left and greeted cheering fans with a series of fist pumps. When he finished his round, he threw a golf ball into the stands, a wide grin on his face.

The US Open should be a meat grinder, an act of survival. But the Crushers GC captain is, dare we say it, actually having fun this week at Pinehurst.

Of course, it helps to have a three-shot lead through 54 holes, as DeChambeau emerged from the pack of weekend contenders with a 3-under 67 in a third round that featured six birdies. He is now 7 under for the tournament and 18 holes away from his second US Open title.

No doubt he will receive a lot of support on Sunday, just like on Saturday. Although he gave them a show in the first three rounds, he also got a lot in return.

“It was awesome,” DeChambeau said when asked about the fans. “I can’t thank them enough. It was a blessing. Man, they pissed me off.”

Perhaps the support helped him overcome some right hip issues that surfaced Saturday morning. At one point, he asked rules officials to notify his trainers, who hit the course for a quick stretching session near the 11th tee.

After a few minutes, DeChambeau ran up the hill to hit his tee shot – and promptly ripped it 359 yards down the fairway.

He said the hip problem is not new and he doesn’t expect it to cause any problems in the final round.

“I’ve been playing a lot of good golf lately, working on my house and trying to get my house finished, so I haven’t really had time to rest like I would like,” DeChambeau explained. “The two weeks I had off after the PGA I was really grinding and focusing on some things. I couldn’t really rest.

“I pushed myself a little bit, pushed the horse a little bit. As a result, that will happen. But I have a great team around me that can help fix some things.”

Playing in the final group with rising star Ludvig Aberg of Sweden, DeChambeau was 1 under on the turn and in the lead pack at 5 under.

He then took control of the tournament.

He birdied the par-5 10th with a nice up-and-down move from the left greenside bunker. He made birdie on the 11th, after that big drive with an approach shot to 15 feet.

He faced a six-foot birdie putt on the 13th after a great fairway bunker shot, but had to wait 10 minutes before he could hit as Aberg suffered a triple-bogey that knocked him back into the leaderboard . He missed the putt and bent his knees as the ball slid past the hole.

“It was one of the hardest putts I’ve had,” DeChambeau said. “So for me it’s just looking at it, being focused and staying focused for ten minutes.”

Does not matter. He birdied the 14th despite his tee shot finding the natal area. He hit his second shot from 131 yards to 30 feet, becoming the first player this week to reach 8 under.

“I hit a great shot, but it didn’t start with a draw spin and the wind pushed it right toward the flag,” DeChambeau said of his second shot. “That’s what you do here: you try to play conservative golf, which gives you a chance to get close in some scenarios. That’s the best way I can describe it.”

Not only did DeChambeau play, but he wasn’t immune to Pinehurst’s devilish domed greens. With a four-shot lead to the par-4 16, he made a double bogey on the hole when his approach rolled off the green and his subsequent chip shot did the same. Of the six shots DeChambeau hit on the hole, five hit the green at some point.

From a historical perspective, suffering a double bogey at Pinehurst during the US Open is cause for concern. None of the three previous winners here – Payne Stewart in 1999, Michael Campbell in 2005 and Cleeks GC Captain Martin Kaymer in 2014 – got a double on their winning scorecards.

But DeChambeau seems intent on making new history. He immediately bounced back by hitting his tee shot on the par-3 from 17 to 12 feet and converting the putt to extend his lead to three. Then he took the time to enjoy the moment and feel the crowd at 18 years old.

“It just gives me a spike in my adrenaline and allows me to focus more on delivering for the fans, for myself and for my family,” he said of the support. “It just inspires me.”

He played inspiredly the first three days in Pinehurst. One more time and he will become a multiple grand champion.

HATTON’S FAST START: With a birdie on his second hole and an eagle on the fifth, Tyrrell Hatton moved to 4 under early in Saturday’s round and grabbed plenty of momentum into the par-3 sixth. But an errant tee shot led to a bogey, and the Legion is in shared seventh place.

“I don’t feel like I lost momentum at that point,” Hatton said. “I mean, I played the first five holes really well. One bad shot, even though it was actually the right club, got me down. It was a bad swing. I got over that pretty quickly.”

Hatton’s tee-to-green play was great this week. He ranks fifth in strokes off the tee and sixth in short game, and he ranks eighth in greens in regulation. He’s also pleased with his putting overall, having burned a lot of edges this week.

“It wasn’t my day on the greens,” Hatton said. “I’m a little sad about that because as it stands now, (six) shots are going back to tomorrow. I know anything can happen, especially around this golf course. Yeah, hopefully I can wake up with the same golf swing as today because I’m really happy with the way I hit the golf ball.

With a top 10 finish, Hatton can guarantee himself a spot at next year’s US Open.

PLAYER NOTES: Fireballs GC Captain Sergio Garcia carded his second consecutive 71, leaving him at 1 under for the tournament. Garcia bogeyed three of his first four holes, but started to bounce back on the par-4 seventh when he hit his approach shot inside 60 yards. … One day later winning his place in the men’s golf competition at the Paris OlympicsFireballs GCs David Puig broke par for the second straight round and shot a 1-under 69 with five birdies. The 22-year-old shot a 68 on Friday to make the cut and guarantee his spot in Paris, where he will join Legion XIII captain Jon Rahm on the Spanish Olympic team. … After a messy front nine in which he made the turn in 40, Ripper GC Captain Cameron Smith played the back nine Saturday in a bogey-free 3 under to finish with a 72, leaving him at 5 left… Two-time US Open champion Brooks Koepka, the captain of the Smash GC, shot a 71 and is at 6 left. … Cleeks GC Captain Martin Kaymer, the 2014 US Open winner at Pinehurst, suffered seven bogeys shooting a 77 and is 10 over … Stinger GCs Dean Burmester is over at 11 after shooting a 76.

(Photo courtesy of Logan Whitton/USGA)