Stenson carded a second consecutive 67 at Baltusrol to claim the clubhouse lead on six under par, a shot ahead of Ryder Cup team-mate Martin Kaymer and America’s Patrick Reed, whose 65 equalled the lowest score of the week.
Two-time major winner Jordan Spieth was two shots further back alongside Japan’s Yuta Ikeda, who matched Spieth’s 67 despite being in the first group out at 7am which were told an incorrect pin position on their opening hole.
After starting on the tenth following a 41-minute delay due to a waterlogged course, Stenson three-putted the 12th and 13th and did well to save par on the next after failing to reach the fairway with a mis-hit drive. However, the 40-year-old Swede responded in superb fashion by hitting his 257-yard approach to the 18th to three feet to set up an eagle, before picking up birdies on the first, third and eighth.
“It felt pretty good the last 12 or 13 holes,” Stenson said. “I got off to a bit of a wobbly start and stood over a six-feet putt on the 14th to avoid going three over, so I’m quite happy that went in and I turned it on from 18.
“It’s easy to get greedy when things are going your way, but I’m very pleased. That could easily have gone the wrong way but I was hanging in there and got the good stuff coming in.”
Kaymer also recovered from dropping two shots in his first three holes either side of the rain delay, the former world No 1 finishing with three birdies in the last four to complete a 69.
“I knew I didn’t need to worry too much,” Kaymer said. “I hit the ball fairly solid. It was just a matter of time that I created birdie chances, and they came.
“I couldn’t make all of them, obviously, but in the end it was very important for me to finish the way I did, to still shoot under par under those conditions because the golf course was definitely a little bit harder to play today.”
Spieth’s 67 included a bogey on the seventh after a wild drive which finished in casual water on a cart path, leading to a ten-minute discussion with a rules official before taking a drop.
The 23-year-old’s foot still appeared to be in a puddle when he hit the ball, meaning he had not taken full relief, but he said: “I would have never hit if I was not told it was okay by a rules official. He told me it was fine. I decided to take relief from the casual water, which I didn’t do correctly the first couple of drops. I ended up still standing in it. Finally, on the last one, it went into a location more straight back in line with the hole where I could then have a stance in line with the hole that would not be in casual water.
“I then altered my stance to play a different shot than what I would have played had it been on the original angle of my drops. Because of that, he [the rules official] said we were following the correct rules and we were taking relief. I don’t think there’s any problem with it. If there happens to be then that’s not on me. I literally asked every question I could ask and I got every answer I could be to be content.”