The 112th U.S. Open was heading for a tight finish as former champion Jim Furyk was joined in the lead by fellow American Webb Simpson with three holes to play in Sunday's final round.
Furyk, whose only major victory came in the 2003 U.S. Open at Olympia Fields, was two over for the day and one over for the championship on a difficult afternoon for scoring at a foggy Olympic Club.
Simpson, helped by a sizzling run of four birdies in five holes from the seventh, was two under for the round with one hole remaining.
Little known American Michael Thompson was a further shot back at two-over 282 after signing off with a three-under-par 67 to grab the clubhouse lead.
While Tiger Woods tumbled out of contention with a closing three-over-par 73, the year's second major appeared to be coming down to a three-horse race.
Furyk began the final round tied for the lead with Graeme McDowell but was gifted a one-stroke advantage when the Northern Irishman bogeyed the par-three third
McDowell's tee shot ended up just short of the green from where he hit a poor putt eight feet past the cup and failed to sink the par putt coming back.
Though Furyk squandered a birdie chance at the fourth where he struck an exquisite approach to seven feet, he moved two shots clear after McDowell bogeyed the par-four fifth.
Furyk made his first mistake of the day when he bogeyed the par-four sixth after hitting a poor chip from behind the green but remained two ahead after McDowell also bogeyed the hole.
Though Furyk pared the next three holes, his lead was cut to one by the charging Simpson.
At the par-four 12th, Furyk was in all sorts of trouble after hooking his tee shot into trees, finding a bunker with his approach and splashing out to 40 feet past the pin.
Remarkably he sank the long-range putt to save par and pumped his right fist in celebration.
However Furyk then bogeyed the par-three 13th, after finding thick greenside rough off the tee, to drop back into a tie for the lead at one over with Simpson
Three-times champion Woods, who was five strokes off the pace overnight, paid the penalty for a nightmare start, going bogey, bogey, double-bogey over the first three holes.
He found the right rough off the tee at the par-four first, dumped his approach into a greenside bunker at the second and took three shots to reach the green at the par-three third.
After paring the fourth, Woods then bogeyed the fifth and sixth to drop to 10 over par in his bid to end a major title drought of four years, a distant 11 strokes off the lead.
Though Woods rallied with birdies at the eighth, 14th and 17th, he finished in an early tie for 21st place.
"I felt great on the greens, had the perfect speed all day and unfortunately just got off to such an awful start," Woods said. "I tried coming in, but I was too far out.
"But overall, the way I struck the golf ball, the way I controlled it all week is something that's very positive going forward."
(Editing by Julian Linden)