Martin Kaymer held his nerve to take a five-shot lead into the final round of the US Open after dominating for three days at Pinehurst.
The German, 29, had his overnight lead reduced by a stroke after carding a 72 to sit eight under for the tournament.
Rickie Fowler and Erik Compton - who both shot 67 - were the 2010 US PGA champion's nearest challengers after being the only players to break 70.
Defending champion Justin Rose was the leading British player on one over.
That score was enough to leave the Englishman tied for 10th going into the final round, with only six players under par after a day in which the dry conditions and testing course set-up made low scoring difficult.
And while that meant that Kaymer was unable to build upon a record-breaking opening two rounds, it also made it difficult for anyone to compile the kind of card that would put him under serious pressure.
|Kaymer's tournament in numbers|
|Fairways hit||35/42 - 83% (field ave. 70.88%)|
|Greens hit||36/54 - 67% (field ave. 56.45%)|
|Sand saves||3/4 - 75% (field ave. 43.04%)|
|Number of putts||84 Ave. 1.56 (field ave. 1.69)|
|Average driving distance||302.5 yards (field ave. 282.15 yards)|
Fowler, Compton, Henrik Stenson, Brand Snedeker, Kevin Na and Brendon de Jonge each pushed themselves to the head of the chasing pack at various stages of the day but none of them could make significant inroads on the lead despite Kaymer posting five bogeys.
His first slip came on the second when the former world number one left a huge putt from off the green 25 feet short of the cup and slid his second attempt past to spill just his second stroke of the week.
A third lapse followed a couple of holes later after an errant drive forced the winner of prestigious Players Championship at Sawgrass in May to take a penalty drop.
However, the manner in which he rammed his 20-foot bogey putt into the cup, then speared an iron shot from the scrub to within 10 feet to set up an eagle on the fifth, spoke of a determined and resolute frontrunner.
Kaymer bogeyed six but reached the turn one over for the day without his advantage having dipped below five strokes.
Further dropped shots at 13 and 15 narrowed the gap to four, but a redoubtable final three holes - including a birdie three at the last - kept Kaymer in pole position to claim his second major championship.
"I didn't play as good as the first two days, but I kept it very well together," he said.
"I felt like, if you have 25 or 30 feet [with approach shots] to every green, you've done well.
"The USGA [United States Golf Association] put the pins in very, very tough positions. On 18, it was probably the easiest pin today and, fortunately, I could take care of it."
Had either Fowler or Compton started the day a stroke or two closer, it might have made for a more fraught afternoon for the leader.
Both recorded five birdies and Compton, who has twice had a heart transplant, even boasted an eagle-three on the fifth.
"After Friday, I was in the mix but, when I went home and watched some golf on TV, I didn't see myself so I figured today would be the same and that the pressure would be off," he said.
"I didn't really mis-hit a shot for the first 10 holes and it is fun when you're hitting good shots."
While the American duo made ground, the expected moving-day charges from players such as Adam Scott, Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell and Rose also failed to materialise.
McIlroy, who started at one under in his bid for a second US Open title, dropped five strokes on the way out and, although he rallied after the turn, his three-over total left him out of contention.
Fellow Northern Irishman McDowell struggled too. The 2010 champion carded a seven-bogey 75 to slip to seven over.
"It's very, very difficult mentally, to stay in it," he said. "You start thinking to yourself, 'I'm not even sure if I want to play tomorrow' because it's not enjoyable.
"It's very difficult. But it's the US Open, golf's toughest test. And they were right today."
World number one Scott fell away to a 73 but Rose (70) continued a decent defence of the crown he won at Merion with one of the best scores of the day.
"It was difficult but it still felt like I left a few shots out there," the 33-year-old said of his level-par round. "My bogeys were all cheap giveaways and I never put myself into big trouble."
Another Englishman Ian Poulter, who started the day at level, carded a 74 to finish four over.
That left him one ahead of Phil Mickelson (72), whose bid to complete a career Grand Slam of all four major titles must now go on hold for another year.
"If I play well tomorrow, I think I can shoot four or five under, end around even par and finish second again," joked Mickelson, who has been runner-up six times in this tournament, including last year.
Of the other British players, Paul Casey was eight over after an eventful 74 in which three birdies only partly masked the havoc wreaked by five bogeys and a double on 16.
Another Englishman Danny Willett was one stroke behind him after a 78, the same score as 19-year-old compatriot Matthew Fitzpatrick in his final outing before turning pro.
However, at least their days were not as bad as that of Toru Taniguchi. The Japanese veteran signed for five double-bogeys on his way to an 88.