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ERIN, Wisconsin (Reuters) - Justin Thomas carded the best ever round at a U.S. Open but still surrendered the lead to fellow American Brian Harman on a helter-skelter Saturday at Erin Hills.
Thomas, decked out in shocking fluorescent pink pants, produced a no less electric performance signing for nine-under 63 to equal the lowest numerical score in a major and the best ever in the 117-year history of the U.S. Open in relation to par.
But the 24-year-old American will start Sunday's final round trailing by a stroke after Harman turned in a rock-solid five-under 67 to top the leaderboard alone at 12-under 204.
"I was glad to hang in there, especially that last group," said Harman, who is playing his first weekend at a U.S. Open in three attempts. "It's tough to see everyone doing well and be wanting to do well.
"It's hard to stay patient but I was proud of the way I did that."
A dizzying day of action could be topped on Sunday with six players within three shots of the lead all eyeing their first major.
Joining Thomas one back are American Brooks Koepka (68) and Englishman Tommy Fleetwood (68) with first round leader Rickie Fowler (68) two adrift and South Korean young gun Kim Si-woo (68) three behind the pacesetter.
The leaderboard may not be packed with household names but the frontrunners bring legitimate credentials to what should be an intriguing Sunday showdown.
Harman, bidding to become the first left-hander to win a U.S. Open, is a winner on the PGA Tour this year while Thomas is the world number 13, a three-time winner this season and a member of the exclusive ‘59’ club after breaking 60 at the Sony Open this year.
Fleetwood picked up a victory in Abu Dhabi on the European Tour while Fowler is widely regarded right now as the best golfer never to have won a major.
"It's going to be a really cool day for someone tomorrow," said Fowler, who has come agonisingly close to notching his first major title finishing in the top five of all four majors in 2014 including a runner-up finish at the U.S. Open.
"I'm looking forward to my shot at it, and I know it's not going to be an easy day.
"I've been there a handful of times and had some good finishes but I'm looking forward to getting the job done."
Players again took full advantage of a softened Erin Hills layout on Saturday, the course left defenceless by overnight rain and only a slight breeze.
They fearlessly attacked the pins and nobody was more ruthless than Thomas, who ripped apart the links-style layout carding nine birdies and two bogeys before capping his record-smashing effort by coolly rolling in an eight-foot putt for eagle at the par-five 18th.
Johnny Miller owned the previous best round of eight-under 63 set en route to victory in the final round at the 1973 U.S. Open at Oakmont.
"I'm a part of history. It means I have a lot better chance to win the tournament than I did when the day started," said Thomas after becoming the 29th player to shoot 63 in a major championship.
Greg Norman and Vijay Singh did it twice, for 31 rounds of 63 in total. A score of 62 remains elusively out of reach.
"I felt like I've been playing pretty well all week and didn't have quite the numbers to show for it,” Thomas continued. “Obviously, today I definitely had something to show for it.
"I had no idea that nine-under was the best ever in an Open, so that was pretty cool once I saw my card.
"The guys at the scoring table told me that, so I was pretty pumped about that.”
Editing by Andrew Both