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By Andrew Both

SAN DIEGO, Calif. (Reuters) – Early starter Hideki Matsuyama shot a closing three-under-par 68 as the leaders prepared for what promised to be a compelling final round at the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines on Sunday.

Bookmakers installed South African Louis Oosthuizen as the slight favourite to capture the major championship, but at least a dozen players will tee off dreaming of lifting the trophy.

Oosthuizen was part of a three-way tie for the 54-hole lead with Canadian Mackenzie Hughes and American Russell Henley, two strokes ahead of heavyweights Rory McIlroy and defending champion Bryson DeChambeau.

South African Oosthuizen, runner-up at the 2015 Open, plays in the final pairing with Hughes, starting at 12.55 p.m. (1955 GMT).

They will be preceded by McIlroy and Henley 11 minutes earlier, while DeChambeau and fellow American Scottie Scheffler go out in third-last pairing.

Oosthuizen, the 2010 British Open champion, has piled up five major runner-up finishes, including at last month’s PGA Championship.

For McIlroy, victory would end a seven-year drought since he won two majors in 2014, which took his career total to four, seemingly destined back then to dominate the game for years.

A fifth major would enhance his reputation as arguably the best player of his generation.

But the Northern Irishman has never won a major after starting the final round out of the lead.

DeChambeau, meanwhile, would be the eighth player to successfully defend a U.S. Open crown.

He has already changed the game by proving that length matters far more than accuracy on most courses, his success prompting other players, including McIlroy, to take note.

A repeat victory would be further vindication for his methods, if any is needed.

Henley and Hughes, without any major pedigree, did not get into the lead through luck, and the U.S. Open has a habit of throwing up unlikely champions on a semi-regular basis.

Matsuyama, meanwhile, was the only one to break par of the first 13 players to complete the final round.

His 68 showed that good scores were possible, though conditions were likely to become tougher once the midday sun started baking out the course.

Masters champion Matsuyama finished at three-over 287, while PGA Championship winner Phil Mickelson shot 75 for 11-over.

Mickelson, who turned 51 on Wednesday, started his hometown Open hopeful of winning the only major to have eluded him in a decorated career.

He has six runner-up finishes in his national championship.

(Reporting by Andrew Both; Editing by Toby Davis)